I am whiskey’s patient friend—but it wasn’t always this way.
My relationship with whiskey started out hot and heavy—more a whiskey shooter than a whiskey sipper. Over time, my tastes matured, and I began to savor the slow and smoky sip of my favorite peaty winter-time whiskey, Laphroaig. Mark Bylok understands the complexity that comes with sipping whiskey and recognizes that while it can appear chaotic on the surface, you should never let that turn you away. Indeed, he says that “Like any worthwhile relationship, sometimes things take time.”
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In Bylok’s definitive guide, The Whisky Cabinet: Your Guide to Enjoying the Most Delicious Whiskies in the World (Whitecap Books Ltd.), he expertly details the jargon associated with whiskey, and the trend of moving away from the aging process. He also provides a variety of unique talking points—for instance, the bottled product, whether it be cheap bottom-shelf whiskey or high-end small batch, almost entirely depends on it’s location within the warehouse. To me, the most exciting and innovative part of this whiskey guide is in the section which references the title, where he provides wonderful recommendations for building and filling your very own cabinet with the world’s best (and most aesthetically pleasing) bottles of whiskey.
Bylok shares his “Aha!” moments for why he loves whiskey and makes an intoxicating case for why it’s so important to take the time to truly taste a whiskey. It’s best to taste a whiskey three or four times, preferably over a period of days, weeks or months. You know immediately that Bylok is a veritable veteran writer on whiskey when he plainly states how to properly “nose” whiskey and explains the pros and cons of adding water to whiskey in easy and relatable terms. Unlike novice writers who compare the taste of certain whiskey to ridiculous flavors (like fish or 10-day-old vanilla cake doused in maple syrup) Bylok’s tasting notes are always on point. I can almost taste the “peaty monster” (a term that he uses to describe the peat-based and smoky Scotch whiskey Laphroaig) when he provides these tempting tasting notes: “You’re essentially licking melted toffee off of burnt oak just lifted out of the fire, with a touch of citrus.”
Bylok has heard it said in many whiskey tasting circles that the beauty behind whiskey is the story that comes with it. But I have to disagree —and so does he. A really great whiskey will wow anyone regardless of the story behind it or the label placed upon it. The true beauty lies in the wood, the artistry behind the barrels and the painstaking aging process, which just like a new relationship, cannot be rushed.