Beginner’s guide to drinking whisky

Interest in whisky is growing, and Australian distilleries are starting to make their mark. Tasmania leads the way with more than 22 whisky distilleries, but Victoria also has at least seven gaining some serious whisky cred, including Starward distillery in Port Melbourne.

City Club’s Wine Bar team leader Freya Rock says the revival of interest in whisky is linked to our increasing sophistication in terms of spirits. “Gin had a revival about 10 years ago, and now we have gin bars and cocktails, and whisky is doing the same thing. More younger people are trying whiskies, and the new distilleries are being much more creative about what they produce.”

Stephen Giblett painting

RACV Club has whisky events, and whisky lockers for hire. Photo: Matt Harvey.

Start with bourbon

Like wine, whisky is something you appreciate the more you learn about the different aromas and flavours. Freya says there are so many different whiskies that people often need guidance to develop their whisky palate. Not only are whiskies made with malted barley, corn or rye, there are single and blended whiskies, and each country, whether it's Scotland, Ireland, Japan, the US or Australia, has a different style.

“My advice is to start with a bourbon,” Freya says. “Bourbon has sweeter tones, because of the corn. People find its vanilla profile more appealing, which helps you start to appreciate the nuances and flavour of the high-proof spirit.” 

Adding ice or water is a personal choice, although purists prefer water, believing the dilution enhances the aroma and flavour. Water can also take away the “burn” that whisky novices often experience. 

“There are a couple of gateway whiskies: the Nikka Coffee Grain Whisky, which has a similar flavour profile to bourbon, and an unpeated whisky, such as the Spring Bay Single Malt Whisky from Tasmania; it has more caramel notes, and it’s lighter,” Freya says. “From there you can adjust your palate, and many people end up trying the Islay whisky styles. Laphroaig is the most famous. They are peaty and heavy – a bit like eating cigars really – and that appeals to a lot of people, but you usually have to work your way up to those flavour profiles.” 

Brief history lesson 

The Scots began making whisky with malted barley more than 500 years ago, probably in response to the lack of grapes to make wine. The Scotch Whisky Association says lighter-flavoured grain whisky debuted 200-odd years ago. Single-malt whisky is produced and bottled in a single distillery, whereas blended whisky combines two or more malt and grain whiskies. More expensive blended scotch whiskies tend to have a higher percentage of malt.

American whiskey (which is spelt with an “e”) can be made with any grain or grain mash that has been fermented, distilled and aged in an oak vessel. However, some names have brand protection: a bourbon can only be made in the United States and a scotch can only be made in Scotland. 

Club whisky events 

The Wine Bar at City Club is a great place to educate yourself about whisky. Freya says she’s happy to offer advice, and give Members a taste of a whisky to help them work out what they like. “Once you get to a certain level, you will find their own palate,” she says. “That’s what I like about whisky, there’s such a wide variety, and you can enjoy different styles at different times.” 

Club Members also have the choice of hiring a whisky locker. The lockers, which create an atmospheric backdrop to the Wine Bar, have a range of whiskies to choose from. Once you have a locker, you can drop into the Wine Bar anytime during opening hours and have your own personal whisky served to you. Club Members should also look out for our Club whisky events in August and September. 

  • Starward Whisky Night, 25 August, 5.30pm-7pm or 7.30pm-9pm, $145 per person.

For details about this event and forthcoming events at RACV Club, visit the What’s On page. Or contact our Club Events team, phone 9944 8888 or email


You might also like...