A guide to one of life’s little joys: Scotch whisky

By Andrew Cottrill . December 18, 2014

JWBL_The Gentleman's Wager_Pre-Screening_Soho House Berlin

Picture the scene: a few months ago I’m at Soho House eating a sandwich with the crusts expertly sliced off, wearing an ill-fitting and un-ironed shirt, trying to act like I belong there. But I’ve a glass of really good whisky in my hand, so I think I fit in.

It’s the Berlin premiere of The Gentleman’s Wager, a short film by Johnnie Walker Blue Label starring Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini. The screening was preceded by a whisky tasting session where we learned the finer points of whisky drinking from one of Johnnie Walker’s whisky experts. Take a sip of ice-cold water, then one of whisky. Let the whisky warm in your mouth, and melt into your chair as you enjoy the film.

JWBL_The Gentleman's Wager_Pre-Screening BLN_T. Struck und JWBL Ambassador Thomas Plaue

Whisky’s not just a drink. It isn’t cheap vodka or tequila shots. It’s a comfortable chair and the smell of cigar smoke and old leather. It’s a finely tailored suit and the sound of a thick glass tumbler connecting with a polished wooden bar. I’d say it was a way of life, but that’s edging a bit too close to sounding like an alcoholic. To those who already know, sláinte! To those with a little space in their lives for something great, here’s a little beginners guide to whisky and where to buy it in Berlin.

At around €200 a litre, Johnnie Walker Blue Label might just be for very, very special occasions (although the Black Label is very reasonably priced!). To find some great whiskies for a lower budget, I visited Cadenhead’s Whisky Market on Mainzer Strasse 20, Friedrichshain.


Stocking around 600 varieties of whiskies from all over world and for every budget, Cadenhead’s is a great place to start. As an independent bottler, they select those whiskies they really like to sell under the Cadenhead’s name. They also offer a wide range of other brands of whiskies.

Over a glass of scotch I spoke to Cadenhead’s Dominik Röttgers.

What are Berlin whisky drinkers like?

We get a big mix of people in the shop. It’s hard to characterise the Berlin whisky drinker – we get as many punks and people with dreadlocks as we do men in suits. We get auslanders looking for a taste of home, old boys getting their favourite bottles, and young women alike. And then there are those who are looking to buy a gift for someone else and we try hard to find the bottle we think will match the flavours they’re looking for.

What should people look for in a good bottle of whisky?

Dark colour is a lot of people’s first thoughts but, when you consider that 90% of commercially produced whisky is artificially coloured (with caramel colouring, the same stuff that goes into Coca-Cola), this isn’t always a good indication. Age, the type of cask used for maturation and the level of peatiness are better indicators of whether it is a good whisky which fits your taste.

As a rule, I’d never spend less than €15 on a bottle.

Can you give me some recommendations for whiskies for beginners, mid-levels and connoisseurs?

Whisky drinking beginners

For absolute beginners, go and talk to the person at the shop. Tell them what flavours you like, what other spirits or mixed drinks you like and they will be able to help you get started.

Many people have a bad impression of what whisky should taste like – whether this was from drinking cheap whisky or whisky that was too strongly-flavoured for them. There are many good, milder whiskies available which are perfect for people new to whisky who are interested in drinking it. Blended whiskies can be an excellent choice.
Blended whiskies are made up of one or more single malt whiskies, blended with grain whisky to create a new flavour. Grain whisky is relatively mild tasting so it creates a mellow flavour without heavy flavour notes that experienced whisky drinkers might be looking for in a single malt.

Recommendation: Campbeltown Loch Blended Whisky – it’s light and slightly smoky and has all the defining features of a good and balanced blended whisky. €19.

Mid-level whisky drinkers

At this point you can start experimenting with which flavours you like the best. Do you like the whiskies aged in bourbon casks, which gives vanilla and citrus flavours, or those aged in sherry casks, which adds a spiciness and a taste of dried fruits, or a mixture of the two? Maybe you like the intense smokiness you get from peaty whiskies, where peat is burnt during the malting process. The world is your oyster and you can start having fun trying to find the type of whisky you like best.
The staff at most good whisky shops should be able to help you find new and interesting bottles. Or, just come to a tasting session at Cadenhead’s.

Recommendation: Glenfarclas Single Malt – these are made with predominately whisky from sherry casks and come in three different ages. They’re oaky and sweet without the smoky taste. Aged 10 years, €30. Aged 12 years, €36. Aged 15 years, €51.

Whisky connoisseurs

Whisky aficionados will probably already know what types of whisky they like so I can’t really give any tips. But I can help them to find new and interesting whiskies. Like this one, the Cadenhead’s Glen Moray 16 years Single Cask with 57.1%vol.

The whisky was distilled and barrelled in a former Bourbon cask at the Glen Moray-Glenlivet distillery in the ’90s. Cadenhead’s Scotland bought this cask and decided to bottle it in 2007 without diluting its contents, leaving it at cask strength. Only 258 bottles came out of the cask, making this whisky quite rare but still reasonably priced. You might only have one chance to try it.

Recommendation: Cadenhead’s Glen Moray 16 years, 57,1% ABV, Single Cask, Cask Strength, €59.

How should whisky be drunk?

I don’t think whisky is a snobby drink – if you like mixing it with coke or soda water or using it in cocktails, do it! The flavour of a good whisky should stand up on its own.

If you are going to drink the whisky neat, adding a little water can help release some of the flavour. In fact, if a spirit is over 46% alcohol, many of the flavours and aromas get trapped by the alcohol. To fully experience the whole range of possible flavours of such a whisky, I would recommend to (at least once) add some water and give the aromas a chance to release and fully develop.

This point leads us to the ice cube question – is ice good in whisky?

Again it’s up to you – if you like it, that’s great. Actually, if a whisky is too strongly flavoured and that’s stopping your enjoyment of it, adding ice can help to make the flavour milder as having cold things in our mouths lessens our ability to taste and thus makes the whisky appear milder.

What’s the German whisky scene like?

There are actually around 160 whisky distilleries in Germany. There are only around 100 in Scotland. That might seem strange, but many of the German ones are also producing other things such as schnapps and beer whereas the Scottish ones are just focusing on whisky. There’s a distillery called Preussische Whisky Destillerie not far from Berlin which you can visit and sample their whiskies.

The thing is, the German whisky scene is still pretty young – and time and experience is very important when it comes to making good whisky. They also work on a smaller scale to the Scottish distilleries and this means you often have to pay a lot more money for a bottle from Germany than you do from Scotland.

What’s your favourite whisky?

There’s no such thing as my (most) favourite whisky. It’s usually the one I’ve got in my glass. We work with limited commodities here – sometimes we receive as few as six bottles of a certain whisky and when it’s gone it’s gone. And when the bottle is empty, the search for my next “favourite” whisky starts again.

Whisky tasting sessions

For a real introduction to whisky, why not attend a tasting session? Cadenhead’s runs whisky tasting sessions on the first two Wednesday evenings and the last two Friday evenings of each month. These are guided by whisky experts and give beginners and whisky fans alike the chance to explore the different types of whiskies available, including rare and limited-run whiskies.

Here are their upcoming events (more available on their website):

  • Fr. 19.12.14 Weihnachtliche Leckereien
    6x2cl Whisky, 40,- €, nur 25 Plätze
  •  Mi. 7.1.15 Einsteiger – Tasting, 8x1cl Whisky, 15,
    Keine Platzgarantie, max. 40 Pers.
  • Fr. 9.1.15 Amerika – Whisk(e)y aus der neuen Welt
    6x2cl Whisk(e)y, 25,- €, nur 25 Plätze
  • Mi. 14.1.15 Einsteiger – Tasting, 8x1cl Whisky, 15,
    Keine Platzgarantie, max. 40 Pers.
  • Fr. 23.1.15 Whisky aus Spezialfässern
    6x2cl Whisky, 30,- €, nur 25 Plätze
  • Sa. 24.1.15 Robert Burns – auf den Spuren des schottischen Nationaldichters
    6x2cl Whisky, 25,- €, nur 25 Plätze
  • Fr. 30.1.15 Blended Whisky
    6x2cl Whisky, 25,- €, nur 25 Plätze
  • Mi. 4.2.15 Einsteiger – Tasting, 8x1cl Whisky, 15,
    Keine Platzgarantie, max. 40 Pers.

Cadenhead’s Whisky Market Berlin
Mainzer Str. 20
10247 Berlin – Friedrichshain
Nähe U Samariterstrasse
Unsere Öffnungszeiten:
Mo-Fr 12:00-20:00 Uhr
Sa 12:00-18:00 Uhr
030 / 30 831 444

Watch the movie The Gentleman’s Wager here.


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