Choosing the right whisky for any occasion

A special occasion calls for a special whisky to celebrate.
A special occasion calls for a special whisky to celebrate. Photo: iStock

We're in the golden age of the golden nectar. So where does the discerning drinker begin? International competitions and respected critics offer a point of entry, but preference and individual taste remain king when it comes to selecting your preferred drop of whisky.

Try these dependable drams to make sure you pick the right whisky at the right time.

When: You've just finished work

When properly made, an Old Fashioned can represent the pinnacle of the bartender's trade.
When properly made, an Old Fashioned can represent the pinnacle of the bartender's trade. Photo: Fiona Morris

What: Old Fashioned

When correctly prepared, little else can match an Old Fashioned's ability to take the edge off after a stressful day at the office.

Author, cocktail expert and co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail, Robert Hess, describes the duplicitous nature of this classic. "When properly made, this cocktail can represent the pinnacle of the bartender's trade. When done improperly, which is more often the case, it can be a disaster of mediocrity." Get it right and try national Johnnie Walker brand ambassador Sean Baxter's take on the classic.

Ksubi designer George Gorrow is a fan of the Pickleback.
Ksubi designer George Gorrow is a fan of the Pickleback. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Ingredients

45ml smooth malt whisky such as Singleton Spey Cascade (1.5 standard drinks)

2 tsp white sugar

3 dashes Angostura bitters

orange twist to garnish

Method

· Add sugar, bitters and 30 ml of the whisky to a mixing glass and stir down until the sugar is dissolved

· Fill the mixing glass with ice and stir for 15 seconds

· Pour over the remaining whisky and give everything another quick stir.

· Pour into a short glass and add a block of ice. Garnish with an orange twist and enjoy.

When: You're with the boss

What: John Walker & Sons King George V

The cream of the crop when it comes to blended whiskies, this is the bottle to reach for when only the best will do. Greet the father in-law or the boss with confidence, and rest assured that this dram is bound to leave a lasting impression.

Blended from some of Johnnie Walker's rarest stocks, including Lochnagar, Cardhu and even the heralded, no-longer-in-existence Port Ellen, this drop delivers an intense bouquet of Christmas pudding and spice followed by a long smoke and caramel finish. Awarded highest honours as Whisky of the Year in the 2015 International Whisky Competition, IWC Judge Adam Carmer described this elegant blend with the highest praises: "This whisky has everything that makes a complex, beautiful, majestic dram featuring all the components of perfection."

When: You're meeting friends

What: Crown Royal, Northern Harvest Rye

This Canadian malt recently claimed the coveted title of World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2016; the second year running that a whisky from an 'International' category has taken out the top spot. With a record-equalling score of 97.5/100, Murray doesn't flounder in his praises, saying it "... reaches new heights of beauty and complexity. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice."

Distilled in Gimli, on the remote western shore of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, this dram is bound to be one of the most talked-about whiskies of 2016. Share the experience with friends by bringing a bottle to your next dinner party as an after-meal conversation starter. Deliberate the success of 'international' whiskies in a new-world market or ponder the merits of a rye dominant mash (90 per cent, in this case). With rich aromas of baking spices and toasted grain, and a creamy palate of butterscotch with soft peppery complexity, this tipple is bound to impress.

When: It's party time

What: Pickleback

Originally conceived by Reggie Cunningham in 2007 at The Bushwick Country Club bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the Pickleback is a simple affair consisting of a shot of bourbon or rye followed by a pickle brine chaser.

We recommend Bulleit Rye, paired with brine from a jar of McClure's spicy dill pickles.

As chef and whisky lover David Chang says: "The smokiness of bourbon plays so well with the acidity and sourness of the citrus that it makes sense to pickle citrus."

For some, this one may be teetering on the edge of enjoyability, but the pickleback has been making waves in the late-night bar scene for a while now and if you haven't been brave enough to get in on the action, maybe it's time you did.

When: The end of the night

What: Lagavulin, 16 Years

It's getting late, and you're considering a nightcap and maybe a bite before bed. The straightforward choice might be a rich, mellow malt from Speyside, but hey, no rules here, right?

End the evening with a wallop, and reach for the Lagavulin, perhaps accompanied by sardines on toast. A far-from-typical combination, yet humble and comforting. The fish's rich oily character marries perfectly with the fiery peat smoked earthiness of Lagavulin, and the briny influence of salty sea air forms a perfect synergy.

Lagavulin 16 Years recently received an impressive 95-point score and a host of medals at the 2015 International Whisky Competition, including Gold for both Best Single Malt 13-17 Years and Best Peated Whisky.

A rewarding choice for those charmed by the fiery malts of Islay.

This article is sponsored by Johnnie Walker.