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November 27, 2006

How to Drink Whiskey

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kyla jones with a cocktail

Kyla Jones

Photo Credit: Scott and Zoe

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The first whiskey I ever drank was technically bourbon. It was my senior year of college, and some new girlfriends, who had already tapped out on keg beer, showed me how to drink Jim Beam and Coke. I can't remember what that first sip tasted like; I'm sure it was harsh. But I drank it and kept drinking it until finally I lost the flavor of the Beam under the sweetness of the Coke, and it was just a sugary cocktail I could down like fruit punch.

It wasn't until after college that I learned whiskey had cachet, that its taste was acquired, that it was a so-called man's drink. Which meant drinking whiskey as a woman made me tough, even if, as a former Catholic schoolgirl (who didn't imbibe until I was legal and never touched a cigarette), I wasn't tough at all. Bartenders gave me admiring looks whenever I ordered whiskey, and dates seemed both intimidated and intrigued as they sheepishly sipped their vodka tonics. I could just feel the imaginary tattoos spreading down my arms.

Eventually, I became interested less in whiskey's mystique than in its taste. I learned to drink the good stuff on the rocks or with a little water. I sipped the Lagavulin neat and found a better bourbon in Maker's Mark. What's more, I started to drink it alone. Not the alcoholic type of alone, but the connoisseur's discerning drink-after-work type of alone. I would sip a little and swish it in my mouth to distinguish the flavors — sometimes sweet and citrusy and other times like liquid fire in my throat.

The more I learned about whiskey, the more I tired of the reactions I used to relish. Now I understand the art of it — the differences in the ways they are made and aged, and their myriad flavors. Discovering whiskey is a project, and the pleasure and mastery of it — the things that seem so intimidating to a beginner — the reward. If more women turned in their cosmos for bookers, we could break the stubborn notion that this rich, moody drink is just for men. So I've prepared a primer for those of you who'd like to join me.


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