You spell it whisky. I spell it whiskey. Let’s call the whole thing off. Not so fast. Whether your favorite grain-based giggle water comes from Scotland (where they drop the e), Ireland or America, there’s nothing more cozy at a winter dinner party than some post-supper whiskey sipping in front of the fire. But the main difficulty lies in offering your guests a well-curated and not-overwhelming set of choices, especially when it comes to a spirit that has endless options. To distill things down, we spoke to The Balvenie brand ambassador Jonathan Wingo, who was recently recognized in Forbes’ “Top 30 Under 30” in the Food & Wine category for his whiskey (and whisky) knowledge and influence. Here are Jonathan’s three easy steps for setting up a whiskey bar at home that’s sure to boost your guests’ spirits:
1. Limit your options.
Jonathan recommends stocking your bar with three options: one higher-end option for the “Snobbish Sipper,” one wildcard option for the “Experimental” drinker, and your go-to brand for cocktails. These should be labeled accordingly to inform and inspire your guests. “By limiting the options, you reduce the stress of having too many choices, create conversation starters, allow for anarchy (“Are you sipping the mixing whiskey?!”), and decrease the footprint of your party setup,” he says.
2. Match the glassware to your whiskey.
As if we needed another excuse to stock up on charming glasses. Jonathan bases his choices in glassware on the aforementioned whiskey categories. Snobbish Sippers get Glencairns and wine glasses, and experimental types find their bliss in rocks glasses and — yes — coffee mugs(“Embrace the weird!” he says). Collins glasses and coupes work best for whiskey-based cocktails. “This almost certainly guarantees dirty dishes, breakage, and rings on your furniture, but this is merely collateral damage for a well-lubricated event,” Jonathan says.
3. Stock a variety of ice.
“Here’s the deal on ice: people like ice in their whiskey, and people enjoy correctly chilling and diluting (very important!) their cocktail,” says Jonathan. The temperature and speed of dilution can affect the taste of whiskey, so you’ll need three sizes of ice to accommodate varying preferences. Jonathan’s recommendations are for a large cube or sphere, a medium, one-inch cube for cocktail-making, and then small cubes. Storage is key here, both for sanity and for the sake of your drinks. “Offer a small selection at the glassware table, and keep back stock in a freezer. Assign a reliable shy/fidgety co-conspirator the task of helping you monitor the ice situation,” recommends Jonathan.
As Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Whisky is liquid sunshine.” Here’s to staying warm this winter.