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How To Play A Bard

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
-Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day (Sonnet 18) by William Shakespeare-
Over time, the Bard has been met with a lot of combat improvements, making it a class that proves it can participate in combat just as well as the rest. Yet, there are still some stigmas and problems when it comes to the travelling performer. “My Bard doesn’t deal enough damage.”, “Charisma is useless.”, “Buffing the party isn’t fun.”, “All they do is play music.”, “Bards are supposed to be horndogs.” and so on. It doesn’t seem to end no matter how hard TSR and Wizards of the Coast tried. So this is where I want to give some pointers on how to get a grip on this multi-talented minstrel, to make the best of this warrior-poet, and to break beyond the stereotype of the horny troubadour.

Creation

The Bard can go in many ways when it comes to ability scores, so in order to make it easier for yourself, come up with up to three performances that your Bard excels at. Whether it is storytelling, singing, dancing, playing an instrument, juggling, acrobatics, battle choreography, or cracking jokes, adding any three to your Bard’s repertoire will help you out along the line. There is more inspiration for this in the Alternatives and Inspiration sections.
All Bards perform in one way or another and that requires confidence and social grace. A Charisma of 16 or higher is a safe bet for any situation your Bard is in. Dexterity is often added for a better ability to dodge attacks but can also help with acrobatics, fancy dance moves, or clever tricks. Having a 16 or higher in this score as well would be ideal unless you want to go a different route. Constitution can help if it’s more about enduring long performance sessions or taking hits. Strength is more for the Skalds who travel, tell tales, and fight along warriors on the open fields. Intelligence is a must for the loremasters and storytellers who can share tidbits of information that they heard from anywhere. Talking at someone might work, but with Wisdom, talking with someone would work better as it shows that you are listening or even pick up some gossip and secrets from a crowded area. (Fun fact, the Bard in AD&D had to have at least these scores: Strength 15+, Dexterity 15+, Constitution 10+, Intelligence 12+, Wisdom 15+, and Charisma 15+. Imagine having to roll these scores with the 3d6-in-order method. The Bard was supposed to be rare.)
You can’t be good at all of these scores and methods, so use the performance arts to guide you in what would make sense for your Bard. Secondly, you can look at the following aspects you can let your Bard focus on.
These are not mutually exclusive sides, they are actually gradient scales. Even if you sacrifice a bit of Charisma in order to increase the physical scores (Dexterity, Strength, and Constitution), you still need spells in order to support your combat style. Otherwise, using only spells might go wrong when you have the wrong ones at hand for the situation, so you want to have a weapon with you just in case. And then there’s the case of having a weapon or spell to compensate when combat is either in the air or on the ground. It’s up to you what you want based on all the choices you made down the line.

Spells

Note I am not going to dictate, judge, or recommend specific spells or powers to you. Each edition has different spells with different effects and with the current edition, more new spells will keep coming. Any judgment on spells is irrelevant in my eyes, as some are situational or subjective to the player in effectiveness. I’ll give basic tips and broad outlines, the rest is up to you.
Versatility, serendipity, and support are the three keywords for this type of spellcaster. The Bard learns spells by travelling around the world and noticing little bits of magic everywhere she goes. This is why the Bard’s spell choices are all over the place. Some other spells are good for enhancing any performing experience so you could take your inspiration for choosing some of those. When it comes to Cantrips, choose at least one spell that affects the ability to hit. Hitting better for you or your party, or hitting worse for the opponent. If you want to focus heavily on weapons, look carefully if you need these Cantrips to increase your defensive or offensive capabilities to compensate for low combat scores.
Specializing in certain spell schools or types is not recommended for the Bard. They are meant to be generalists but their spells are oddly specific depending on the creature, situation, or components. The Bard has to perform to cast most spells; dancing, singing, and playing an instrument with two hands (the instrument is replaced with a conductor’s baton in 4e). Again, look at what you want to focus on. If you see yourself with your hands full of weaponry, you still have your voice to use. If you are able to leave one hand free, you have the other one left for movements (or a horn as it is the only one-handed instrument available). If you want to go on performing and focusing on spells fully, you will have little opportunity to handling weapons other than holding a dagger in one hand and not playing while you are at it. Even if you want to go fully armed with your Bard, you can still choose some spells that are useful outside of combat or support the combat style. Otherwise, if you think you’re not combat effective with weaponry (an ability score lower than 16), do look for at least one Cantrip or spell that deals damage if you don’t like to be a pacifist.
As a rule of thumb, to start with a balanced Bard, pick the following types of spells: one that is beneficial for you or the party, one that is detrimental to the opponent, something that helps with social interaction, and something practical that helps with exploration. You can interpret these in any way you like and some of these spells can work in different ways in- and outside of combat. You won’t be able to cover all your bases as there will be situations where some of these spells won’t work. That is where you have to think outside of the box and use a different prepared spell or method to create a beneficial result. When levelling up, you can still use the first set of spells at a higher level, making the base as versatile as how you use it.
With the last two editions, the Bard is no stranger to ritual casting. If you want to be stingy on the utility spells, then look for one that is a ritual that you think might come up often.

Combat

If you want to fight as a Bard then you will do well if you understand teamwork. You can smooth things out for the group and ease the problems that may arise with little boosts in combat prowess. You might need to remind the group of their additions in abilities from time to time, though. Sometimes the little things get overlooked but can still make all the difference. There’s no guarantee that the boost works, but the effort should be there. Assist those who can shine depending on the battle, making the heavy hitter hit heavier, making the damage sponge take more hits, giving the mage more magical bang for his buck, etc. If an ally is down or has trouble taking the fight well or has a big weakness, you can choose to support that one instead. This is a tactical choice that is up to you. The Bard is often dependent on a group, so if you don’t have a group, you might want to hire some retainers to fight along with you.
As mentioned in the Spell section, a lot of the Bard’s spells are situational depending on what is happening and what needs to be done. This requires versatile thinking from yourself as you might want to switch to a weapon if the spells don’t work, or you need to think outside of the box and use a different spell to make the battle easier. You might not be able to massively damage dumb brutes, but an illusion or charm spell might stop them in their tracks. You could have an effective spell at the ready, but the opponent doesn’t have the right requirements to be affected by it, so use a different spell that might exploit that opponent’s weakness. If you are focused on weaponry, there are still ways to get the best effects from the usage of weapons or your combat style. Even if you feel powerless against your opponents when it comes to magic, you can still turn the tables by magically supporting the group in a way that you think is effective. This versatile thinking turns teamwork into a moment of harmony, or a symphony if you will.
The Bard can find abilities and spells that allow her to emulate a certain class, but it will never be exactly the same. Embrace the Bard in its entirety rather than the sum of its parts. Any combat role that is missing can be filled up by a Bard who bends that way, but she won’t be able to take it for long. Consider your abilities when trying to position yourself. If you think you can take a direct hit, go to the front, if you think you’re better off at range, go to the back. Stay close to the rest (preferably within earshot) if you want to support them or if you can switch styles quickly. When combat goes well but you’re out of (primary) resources or the group needs that little push, you can break out of your style and positioning to keep going for a round or two. Keep learning from other classes in what they do well and what you can do, too. That way, you’ll excel your Bard’s talents and develop them into skills.
Lastly, the Bard is able to learn Countersong/Countercharm at some level. This ability rarely comes up, but can be a lifesaver for the entire group when it does. Keep an ear out for any charming effects that can be created with words or music. Not all monsters are willing to engage in combat, some prefer to defeat the entire group with guile instead.

Roleplay

Who could deny the social charm of the Bard? Some want to play a womanizer, others go for the aspiring artist, and perhaps others want to be that ambassador or spokesperson. In whatever way you want to play one, letting your Bard be social is a strong start. Now, not everyone has the real-life social skills to make their Bard shine and I can’t give an explanation that could do it justice. To keep it brief, social skills are about making a connection with people rather than being a chatterbox. People generally like themselves and like to talk about themselves and meet people who share something with themselves. Those with a strong social understanding are capable of finding things that they have in common at any level with their conversation partners, are able to show that they listen to people, and can have a conversation that is respectable without making it turn into a fight. If this sounds like a high-level challenge for you, try to be generally positive about things and give a compliment now and then. Attempt at some small talk and questions with strangers, practice assertiveness to keep going, and reflect on the tone of your voice when you spoke with someone.
Social skills help when combat skills won’t. Strong persuasive skills might convince a king to give his supporting troops. Honeyed words can keep the ancient dragon from turning you into kebab. Convincing a dumb brutish creature that the rocks you are holding are actually candy could give you an advantage when running away from it. Bargaining with a shopkeep can save you a bit of money. An interrogation might go well if done aggressively. Try to roleplay the argument, do speak out and accept the die result if one is necessary. Even if you think it doesn’t matter because it’s based on the roll, you might get rewarded for the kind of social strategy you chose to use. That said, please don’t use intimidation as a cudgel to get what you want. Even when you’re successful, you can still lose the respect of people, especially the ones who were willing to help you from the start. Asking nicely goes a long way and you can’t force people to surrender everything to you just because you rolled as high as you can.
Performance, in general, is the bread and butter of the Bard and might grant a bit of money or the adoration of people. The promise of being written in a poem, song, or epic story would be something any person be glad about. Otherwise, other kinds of performances can still give people a good time and a lasting impression. A person who is feeling down might be cheered up with a nice song. This is one of many strengths of a Bard as a hero.
Most of the Bard’s magic is focused on spells that support social skills and anything that would enhance the splendor of performances. These spells can help make people more susceptible to your intentions whether they are benign or malignant, obvious or inconspicuous, or for personal use or for someone else. Whichever spell you choose, there can be a way to make good use of it as long as you can figure out how. Do be careful, though. Most people don’t take kindly to being enchanted and manipulated like that.

Exploration

The Bard can grant comfort and ease for the group. They can make resting and travel go smoother with their performances and are able to keep the group’s morale high. This way, the group will always have an edge when something unexpected starts. This might not work when the group needs to travel quietly, though. You might want to stay quiet when stealth is necessary and use the soothing notes when it’s okay.
When something needs to be done that a character is good at, you can be there to give that person a boost, minimizing risk and maximizing travel speed or survival. If such a person isn’t there, you might be a good second choice. The serendipitous skill-tricks a Bard learns in her career makes her better than anyone who doesn’t have any points in a said skill. As they say; “In the world of the blind, the one-eyed person is king.”
As with anything, the Bard can use magical spells to make something easier to do. Any supportive spell you chose could have some use when it comes to finding useful lore, opening ways, or leaving a message. There might be an expert in the group that can make something work, but if there is none or if all else fails, magic is a good option to fall back on.

Alternatives

In medieval Gaelic and British culture, a bard was a professional storyteller, verse-maker and music composer, employed by a patron (such as a monarch or noble), to commemorate one or more of the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own activities.
Originally a specific, lower class of poet, contrasting with the higher rank known as fili in Ireland and Highland Scotland, with the decline of living bardic tradition in the modern period the term "bard" acquired generic meanings of an author or minstrel, especially a famous one. For example, William Shakespeare, and Rabindranath Tagore are known as "the Bard of Avon" and "the Bard of Bengal" respectively.
-Wikipedia-
In precise historical terms, the title "bard" applies only to certain groups of Celtic poets who sang the history of their tribes in long, recitative poems. These bards, found mainly in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, filled many important roles in their society. They were store houses of tribal history, reporters of news, messengers, and even ambassadors to other tribes. However, in the AD&D game, the bard is a more generalized character. Historical and legendary examples of the type include Alan-a-Dale, Will Scarlet, Amergin, and even Homer. Indeed, every culture has its storyteller or poet, whether he is called bard, skald, fili, jongleur, or something else.
-2nd edition Player’s Handbook-
A Bard is not just a musician but a multi-talented performer. You can go in many ways or come up with variations on what your perfomance and style is. Otherwise, you can give your concept of the Bard a twist by looking at the following examples below.
  • Acrobat
  • Actor
  • Advisor
  • Aois-Dàna
  • Charan
  • Clown
  • (Court) Jester
  • Danser
  • Fili
  • Fool
  • Geisha
  • Greek Chorus
  • Griot
  • Hymnist
  • Joculator (Juggler)
  • Legislator
  • Minnesinger
  • Minstrel
  • Musician
  • Nīþ
  • Playwright
  • Poet
  • Puppeteer
  • Raconteur
  • Rhapsode
  • Wordsmith
  • Scop
  • Seanchai
  • Singer
  • Skald
  • Storyteller
  • Thespian
  • Troubadour
  • Vates
As a bonus, I’ll add the nine muses and their domains for the sake of inspiration as any artist could use some source of inspiration to work with.
  • Calliope of epic poetry
  • Clio of history
  • Erato of love poetry
  • Euterpe of song
  • Melpomene of tragedy
  • Polyhymnia of hymns
  • Terpsichore of dance
  • Thalia of comedy
  • Urania of astronomy

Inspiration

As the Bard is known for being a musician, it would be easy to fill this list with a massively long line of performers and bands. I wanted to put my favorites in here, but would that do it any justice? I’m sure that you have some favorites as well. However, that would make the list too long and arbitrary. So I’m noting relatively modern performers that have a combination of at least two of the following performance arts: storytelling, song, dance, acting, choreography, comedy, and poetry. Others are names throughout history that are undoubtedly famous or have made a significant impact on performance arts (and some random stuff just for fun).
  • 8 Mile (2002)
  • A Bard’s Tale games
  • A Modern Major General by Gilbert & Sullivan
  • A Star Is Born (1954)
  • A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech
  • Acoustics, example one, example two, example three
  • Almost Famous (2000)
  • Alternative instruments example one, example two, example three
  • Amadeus (1984)
  • Amergin Glúingel
  • Antonio Lucio Vivaldi
  • Aristotle’s Poetics (though you won’t find the second book)
  • Be Kind Rewind (2008)
  • Beatboxing
  • Beatniks
  • Being John Malkovich (1999)
  • Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
  • Black Swan (2010)
  • Bob Dylan
  • Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
  • Bollywood movies
  • Boom-boom clap, boom-boom clap
  • Brave Sir Robin’s minstrels from Monthy Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail
  • Brook from One Piece
  • Brütal Legend
  • Cacafonix from Asterix & Obelix
  • Captain EO (1986)
  • Catchy beats
  • Catelyn Ohashi
  • Chanson de geste
  • Chanson de Roland
  • Charles Chaplin
  • Cheerleaders
  • Chloe Kim, Olympic snowboarder
  • Chopin
  • Christmas carolers
  • Christmas songs
  • Cloud Atlas (2012)
  • Clowns
  • Cool World (1992)
  • Cricket from James and the Giant Peach (1996)
  • David Bowie
  • Deedee’s New Voice episode from Dexter’s Laboratory
  • Departures/Okuribito (2008)
  • Dinobabies (seriously, it’s just the spectacled dino telling fairytales)
  • Dirty Dancing (1987)
  • Disney movies and songs
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Dreamgirls (2006)
  • Dungeon Masters/Game Masters
  • Earworms
  • Elton John
  • Elvis Presley
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Flashdance (1983)
  • Frank (2014)
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Gaucelm Faidit
  • Gilbert & Sullivan
  • Gloomy Sunday by Rezsö Seress
  • Grease (1978)
  • Gysbert Japiks
  • Haikus
  • Heroes by David Bowie
  • High Fidelity (2000)
  • High School Musical 1 (2006)
  • High School Musical 2 (2007)
  • High School Musical 3 (2008)
  • High School Musical 4 (2019)
  • Homer, author of The Iliad and The Odyssey
  • Humble beginnings
  • Il Trovatore
  • Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
  • Jabbawokeez
  • Jack Black
  • Jem and the Holograms (2015)
  • Jem and the Holograms series
  • Jigglypuff, Meloetta, Chatot, Cricketot, Poliwhirl, Ludicolo, Bellossom, Oricorio, and Mr. Mime from Pokémon games
  • Jim Henson
  • Jim Henson’s The Story Teller and The Muppet Show
  • Jimmy Hendrix
  • Johnny Cash
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • Julius ‘Groucho’ Marx
  • Kasperle
  • Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
  • Kung Fu Hustle’s musicians (2004)
  • La Môme (2007)
  • Labyrinth (1986)
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
  • Les Miserables (1995, 2010, 2012)
  • Les Miserables, kazoo version
  • Lindsey Stirling
  • Lord George Gordon Byron
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Love’s Labour’s Won by William Shakespeare
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Madonna
  • Magical girl transformations
  • Man on the Moon (1999)
  • Marshal ‘Eminem’ Bruce Mathers III
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (2005, 2015)
  • Metallica
  • Michael Jackson
  • Michael Rosen
  • Moonwalker (1988)
  • Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • National anthems
  • Nirvana
  • Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker and any of the songs from these games
  • Once More With Feeling from the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Orange County (2002)
  • Orchestral versions of songs
  • Pentatonix
  • Per la ricuperata salute di Ophelia by Mozart and Salieri
  • Perfect by Fairground Attraction
  • Pianoman by Billy Joel
  • Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
  • Puppeteering
  • Queen
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Rabindranath Tagore
  • Radio Ga Ga by Queen
  • Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Gang
  • Ray (2004)
  • Ray Charles
  • Rob Cantor and Andrew Horowitz
  • Rock and Rule (1983)
  • Rockadoodle (1991)
  • Rolling Stones
  • Sander Cohen from Bioshock
  • Sappho, the tenth muse
  • Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
  • School of Rock (2003)
  • Serendipitous music example one, example two, example three
  • Shigesato Itoi
  • Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
  • Skáldatal
  • Slam poetry
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • Song covers
  • Song of the South (1946)
  • Soul Music, and the fool in Wyrd Sisters from the Discworld series by the late Sir Terry Pratchett
  • Straight Outta Compton (2015)
  • Sucker Punch (2011)
  • That one song that gives you goosebumps and makes you listen to it on repeat before wanting to sleep
  • The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985)
  • The Barbarian and the Geisha/The Townsend Harris Story/Barbarian (1958)
  • The Bard (2011)
  • The Bard (2017)
  • The Bard’s Song by Blind Guardian
  • The Beatles
  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • The Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
  • The Book of Taliesin
  • The brown note
  • The Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius
  • The Devil Went Down To Georgia
  • The Entertainer by Scott Joplin
  • The fool from Wyrd Sisters
  • The Great Dictator (1940)
  • The grey note
  • The Music of Erich Zahn by H.P. Lovecraft
  • The Never Ending Story (1984)
  • The Never Ending Story 2 (1990)
  • The Never Ending Story 3 (1994)
  • The nine muses of Greek mythology
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1925, 1943, 1962, 1973, 1974, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1998, 2011)
  • The Piano (1993)
  • The Pick of Destiny (2006)
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin
  • The pink note
  • The Road to El Dorado (2000)
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
  • The Score of Thespis by Gilbert & Sullivan
  • The Sound of Music (1965)
  • The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel
  • The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny and Word Disassociation by Lemon Demon
  • The Wiz (1978)
  • Thespian plays
  • This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
  • Tina Turner
  • Toast Song
  • Top Secret Drum Corps
  • Tribute by Tenacious D
  • Triple threats in theatre
  • Tupac ‘2Pac’ Amaru Shakur
  • Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles
  • Voice types: Sopranos, Mezzo Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, Baritones, Basses, Contra Altos, Contra Tenors
  • Walk off the Earth
  • Walk The Line (2005)
  • Weightless by Maraconi Union
  • Weird Al Yankovic
  • West Side Story (1961)
  • Where The Wild Things Are (2009)
  • Whitney Houston
  • Will Scarlet, Alan-a-Dale, and the rest of Robin Hood’s Merry Men
  • Will Smith
  • William Shakespeare
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Woodstock
  • Yellow Submarine (1968)

Subclasses

  • Valor

Classes

Races

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[Table] IAmA: We are Mikael and Stephanie from Distiller, a website and app all about whiskey! We’re here to answer all of your questions about everyone’s favorite spirit. Ask us anything!

Verified? (This bot cannot verify AMAs just yet)
Date: 2014-04-18
Link to submission (Has self-text)
Questions Answers
What are the real differences between bourbon, scotch, and whiskey? SM: Good question! Okay, well, the real differences between Bourbon, Scotch, and Whiskey are not just geography, although that is part of it. Both Bourbon and Scotch are types of Whiskey (spelling aside). They both have rules to follow, but generally, Bourbon must be produced in the US and must be least 51% corn and aged in new charred American Oak.
This may be only related to bourbon, but what are the differences between single barrel, and small batch? Scotch must be produced and aged in Scotland for at least 3 years, the barrels can (and almost always are) previously used. The grains in Scotch will vary depending on the type of Scotch, but for Single Malts, 100% barley must be used.
Should I really be paying more for either? Small Batch has absolutely no legal definition...it can mean 6 barrels or 6000 barrels. Single Barrel is just that; whiskey from one barrel. The Scotch use this term as well. I'd say there is a reason to pay more for a Single Barrel, as typically the proof will be higher and there will be slight variants from bottle to bottle.
Scotch smells like a peat bog, and tastes like it to, is it an acquired test? I'd say, yes, peaty Scotch (although there are many that are not) is an acquired taste. If you'd like to begin, I'd try a lightly peated Scotch like a Bunnahabhain. If you don't want peat, but want a Scotch, try Auchentoshan.
Similar to Wine having age, and beer hops quality, is there one attribute, feature, etc. which you can roughly judge quality against? With regards to age and quality, older isn't necessarily better. Sometimes the woody aspects overtake the whiskey. It will vary from person to person, but with a Bourbon, the sweet spot would be 6-12 years and for Scotch 12-18 years.
What have the barrels that Scotch is aged been used for previously? Other whiskey, wine? MM: All sorts of things. Bourbon, wine, sherry, rum, you name it.
What is the most out there whiskey that either of you have tried? One that you wouldnt forget if you could. And what does the future of whiskey look like? Anything new or extraordinary? SM: Let's see...with regards to surprising flavors, Charbay out of California makes a Hopped Whiskey. That was really surprising for me as I was tasting it blind. I won't forget that. Very intensely aromatic. Fun. Another time, I had some friends take a very small barrel, "season" it with Dr. Pepper and further age an American whiskey in it (can't recall the whiskey). The future will continue with more innovation, particularly from the American small craft distillers. I'd call them the Mavericks. Distilleries like Corsair and Balcones are really pushing the envelope using different ingredients or techniques. One more thing is that whiskies are being produced in places you wouldn't think of (and some, like England, you are wondering what took so long.) Tasmanian whiskey? Yeah, it's a thing.
Is Bourbon just not well regarded in the whisky world, or is that just traditionally where the price point has been? Bourbon is quite regarded throughout the world, actually. Particularly in Japan and the UK.
What's the best way to drink whiskey? And are there any foods that you'd say whiskey accompanies particularly well? SM: Drink whiskey as you like, but try it neat at least once. Then add water, if desired. Water isn't a bad thing; it is like swirling your glass of wine. You're bringing life to something that had been sealed in a bottle. It wakes it up. As for food, I don't know where to begin. I think cheese and whiskey is even better than cheese and wine. Cheddars, blues, whatever...bring it on. The more delicate the food, the more delicate the whiskey. A blended Scotch like Asyla with seafood works just like squeezing lemon on you food. Oysters and lightly peated whiskey is fantastic!
What in your opinion is the best deal for a good american whiskey? MM: It's going to be hard to tell you a best deal but I can tell you some of my favorite deals. Four Roses Small Batch, Elmer T. Lee, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Jefferson's Reserve, and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. All of those should be no more than $30-35.
Is there any way of mixing/drinking whiskey that you would discourage absolutely, or is "to each his own" your philosophy about enjoying the drink? SM: The one and only time I made a mention of something someone was doing was the time I was at a dive bar that happened to have Macallan 18 (I know!). A young man in his early 20's asked for that mixed with Coke. In fact, the bartender said no, so I didn't have to, but I gently pleaded with him to try on its own. That is really the only time I'll jump in. Don't mix older Single Malt scotch with soda! That aside, put water, ice, whatever in your drink, I just ask that you try it neat first at least once. I have been known to enjoy my ginger and bourbon from time to time.
When tasting aged skotch what do you look for? For example 12 y.o. Macallen vs 18 vs 25? The senses you are supposed to notice...the spices and others. SM: I think tasting whiskies from the same distillery side by side is a great way to see what time in a barrel will do to the whisky. In a peated whisky, for example, the older the whisky the less peaty the whisky will be. In the case of The Macallan, they age their whiskies in ex-Sherry barrels. The younger whisky will be more fruity, actually than the older as the wood itself will play a larger role giving a dryness and spice to the whisky.
As a Scot, I'd like to think myself reasonably knowledgeable about whisky. Each region here has its own very distinct taste; Islay being notoriously peaty, Speyside lightness, etc. Is there an equivalent for bourbon or other types of whisky where you can guess the qualities of it without ever smelling or tasting a drop? SM: Hmmm. Well, as most Bourbon is still being produced in Kentucky, there isn't so much the geography or "terroir" influence as there is in Scotland. That said, knowing the style of whiskey will tell you how it will taste. Some bourbons are "wheated" meaning wheat will be the 2nd proportion of grain in the whiskey. Some bourbons have more rye. Knowing what wheat, corn, and rye bread taste like will help to understand what those whiskeys will taste like without tasting a drop.
Japanese whiskey seems to be on the rise lately, scoring very highly at international competitions. What are your thoughts on Japanese whiskey, and do you have a favorite brand? SM: I love Japanese whiskies. They are often nuanced, balanced, and are of great quality. I'm not sure I have a favorite brand, but one that will always have a place in my heart is the Suntory Yamazaki 12 year. This is the whisky that got me started to truly go down the whisky rabbit hole. Tasting this whisky for the first time made me want to explore why it tasted the way that it did. I will always hold it in high regard.
I am a big fan of sherried scotch. Any suggestions for a better product at a lesser price then the MaCallan lines? Many have stated the quality is declining and I agree. Tried the Glenmorangie Lasanta wasn't a big fan. SM: Glenfarclas comes to mind. They are out of the Highlands. There are some Irish Whiskeys that are using wine finishes. One of my favorites is Bushmills 16.
How do you develop a nose for whiskey? Glencairn glasses are small tasting glasses with a wider bottom and narrow top. Using a small wine glass or sherry glass would work. Glasses aside, you should smell, EVERYTHING. As you walk outside, take a moment to smell the flowers. Smell as you cook, the different spices in your cabinet. Take a stroll through your produce department and smell anything you don't know. Training your nose to remember flavors takes just a little time, but you will soon notice a difference. Having lived in NYC for almost a decade, sometimes the super smell can backfire.
I drink whiskeys and whiskys that taste and smell great to me, and have for 20 years, yet I cannot nose out specific aromatics. SM: There are some out there that do have a diminished sense of smell. Having said that, I'd make sure that, for evaluation and not necessarily day to day drinking, your glasses are important.
You guys are in NYC? Have you been to American Whiskey? MM: Seattle and Los Angeles mainly but we have people all over. Stephanie worked and lived in NYC for a very long time. I haven't been there, no. Where in NYC is it?
Which distillery do you think has the most solid track record of producing quality whisky? SM: Well, I'd say that if you have been producing whiskey for over 100 years (and for Scotch producers, sometimes that is 200-300 years) you are doing something right. Large American brands such as Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, and Four Roses are producing quality whiskey. The thing to be aware of is to try to determine what YOU like...or sometimes, more importantly what you DON'T like. Do you like whiskey on the sweeter side? More spicy? Smoky?
What's your favorite (or your recommendation if you don't drink these) whiskey to use in an old fashion? MM: That's my personal cocktail of choice - I think Buffalo Trace goes really nicely in an Old Fashioned. It's cheap but delicious.
Thanks! I'll look for it at bevmo (no idea where else to go for it, hopefully they have it). I never know which kind of whiskey to go for when I want to make one. MM: I'm almost positive they'll have it. Enjoy!
Is alcoholism hereditary? Also, why do assholes in turtlenecks like to pretend their whiskey tastes like peat moss and caramel flowers and all that? MM: I'm no doctor so not even going to swing at the first question. As for the turtlenecks bit, do people still wear those? I'm actually serious, where would one even buy a turtleneck?
There's a guy who works in another office on my floor of the building, I see him in the restroom just about every time I'm in there (which says something else entirely) and he only wears turtlenecks. He also doesn't wash his hands. MM: Next time you see him, ask him where he buys his 'necks. Asking for a friend.
What are some of the basics, if any, when it comes to whiskey and food pairing? SM: Match the weight of the food and the weight of the whiskey. A lighter, floral whiskey will absolutely lost when paired with venison.
As for cheese, which is a favorite pairing, this rule still applies. Bold blues can totally handle peaty whiskies. They also go well with wine finished (sherry, port, madeira) Scotches.
question: how do you feel about Cleveland Whiskey? MM: I've only tried it a few times but I enjoyed it. I know people get up in arms about them because they rapid age their whiskey but I think it's interesting. I want to get in there and watch them do it, it sounds really cool.
What is your opinion about orphan barrel's barter house? MM: As luck would have it I actually got a bottle of this two days ago. I've only tried it once so I'll reserve judgement yet, but to say that I enjoyed it. My local liquor store manager is very suspicious of the math (they claim they just found 100 barrels of this stuff lying around? - his words, not mine). I'll say this for Diageo, it's a smart marketing technique for sure. Stores can't keep these bottles stocked and the prices are really high.
My favorite bourbon is Black Maple Hill, what is yours? As for favorite bourbon, that's tough, I love so many. W.L. Weller 12 is an all time favorite of mine. I also really enjoy things like Blanton's, Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch, Rock Hill Farms, Four Roses Single Barrel... I should stop or I'll spend the rest of the AMA just listing bourbons I like.
I'm a big fan of your site/app. General growth aside, where do you see Distiller going from here? New features/ expansions/ lasers? MM: Thanks for saying that! We are actually currently in top secret (...unless I just blew it) talks with a private security contractor to develop Distiller lasers. So yes, that's #1 priority on the product roadmap. After that we are focussing on adding more bottles every day, bringing more people into the tasting table, and adding new features. In fact we just launched Wish List last night, and next week you can expect some cool changes to Top Shelf.
How can we get more local craft PNW whiskeys in Distiller? I want to try them all, but it gets expensive with these high liquor taxes here in WA, so it'd be great to have a guide of the flavor profiles. MM: We've got a few but we are talking with more up there to get samples to our tasters for reviewing. We do all of our reviews in house (Stephanie does a lot of them) and so it takes time. We prefer doing it that way to just sourcing reviews from other places. Original content ftw! Are there any particular ones you would like to see that aren't represented yet?
Also, what's the best burger in Queen Anne? As for burgers I'm partial to the Hilltop Ale House burger. The burger at the 5 spot ain't bad either.
I was given a bottle of Jack Daniels as a tip. Nothing too special about it other than it's from 1983. Would it be safe to drink? Or even worth anything to a collector? The packaging is in perfect condition. SM: The whiskey would be safe to drink. The proof might be different than what it is today, which might be worth something to a collector.
Hello! Thank you for doing this AMA! I had a conversation yesterday about aging and at some point I said that probably the mainstream brands like johnny walker do the aging artificially because I guess they can't store all this whiskey for all these years. Is that true? SM: No. Not true. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) would never allow "artificial aging."
I'm a total noob when it comes to scotch. Can you make a recommendation on a good place to start? MM: Not to be an ass and link back to my own site but I'm totally gonna. We have a think for that in Distiller. Get a recommendation. Check it out, see what you come up with :)
Are you seeing any more love for Rye? I'm a big fan, & think it should take off. Old Overholt, you understand me. Thanks for the AMA. MM: Thank you for joining in! Rye is definitely doing well. There are some really cool new rye's popping up all over the place. Angel's Envy just came out with a really interesting rye that's been finished in Caribbean Rum Casks. We had some Colonel E.H. Taylor Straight Rye last week on the Engadget Podcast and that was fantastic. And then there's Whistlepig who are bringing their rye in from Canada. People seemed to be upset about that, but if I'm being honest it is pretty delicious. I don't particularly care where it comes from if it tastes that good. A bit pricey though.
Any tips for someone who's apparently extremely sensitive to alcohol burn? For the sake of the question, assume I'm drinking it neat from a Glencairn, sipping it as I would any basic ol' drink. If I do that, it feels like I just chewed on a handful of Habanero peppers. SM: Water is your friend. Both in the glass and on the side. I know some Kentucky Master Distillers who add just as much water as they do whiskey to their glass. Ain't nothing wrong with that.
Did you taste Shackleton's Mackinlay whisky? Would something like that be palatable after 100 years in the ice? SM: I did taste the recreation of the whisky. There was nothing to write home about. It tasted average.
After that time in the ice, I'm not sure what the elements would do to it. It would seem to not affect the whisky as much as heat would.
I'd have tried it, had I been on the boat.
Are there any big-production whiskeys that can hold their own against the special editions and small batch offerings (I'm thinking specifically of bourbons)? SM: This is tough to answer without knowing a price point to begin with. Some of my favorite standard bottlings are Elmer T Lee, Willet Bourbon, Elijah Craig 12, and Weller 12.
Is it legal to distill alcohol at home for personal use? A friend of mine insists you can since it is legal to make beer and wine at home for personal use. Unfortunately I can't find any state or federal laws regarding personal use, just that it is illegal to sell it without a license. SM: Yeah. Totally illegal. But people still do it. That is what true Moonshine is all about.
What's your favorite reasonably priced Whiskey to give as a host/hostess gift? MM: Are you looking for any particular kind of whiskey like scotch, bourbon, rye, irish, japanese, whatever? Or just anything that's likely to impress for a good price?
I'm no expert, more looking for a bang for my buck! :) MM: Well I think you can't go wrong with a good scotch. Highland Park 12 is delicious and shouldn't be more than $45 US.
Any ideas on places to get good and interesting bourbons without driving to Kentucky? If feels like (with a few exceptions) most liquor stores just carry the usual and if they have a bigger selection they are just expanding up the price range. MM: It really depends where you live, but in general you can find some truly fantastic bourbons that have national distribution and aren't all that expensive. But it also depends where you live. If you're in or near a major city you should be able to find some really interesting bourbons without breaking the bank. It's probably more about finding the right liquor store. Some of my best discoveries have come from just popping into liquor stores out of curiosity to see what they had on the shelves.
Can you recommend a good whiskey for those that don't like the peaty taste? MM: Absolutely! I'll be honest, I have a hard time with really peaty whiskeys too. They've just never been my favorite. There are all sorts of scotches you can try that aren't peaty at all. I'm a big fan of the Glenrothes. It comes in this short stumpy bottle and it's really good. I'm also a huge bourbon and rye fan. Check out Four Roses Small Batch ($30 or so). The price is pretty good and you won't find a drop of peat!
Are there any 'moonshine' or young american whiskeys that you're particularly fond of? MM: I wouldn't say I'm especially fond of any of them, to me there's a reason we age whiskey :), with that said the Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1 is a pretty corn heavy malty one and the proof is super high unlike some of the other un-aged whiskeys out there. 125 proof.
How do you determine whether you should be drinking a particular whiskey neat, on the rocks, or with water? MM: It all comes down to personal preference. There's no "right" way to drink any of those. As Stephanie has said in reply to some other questions, try the whiskey neat first, but then enjoy it however you prefer. Don't let anybody tell you you're drinking whiskey wrong because there is no such thing as the right way to enjoy it. Except if you are gonna get something nice, don't mix it with coke. Save the lower shelf stuff for that :)
What are your thoughts on Irish Whiskies? I'm a big fan of Jameson, esp the 18 year old. MM: Love them, there are some really interesting brands coming out of Ireland right now too. The Green Spot just got to the US, and Teeling is amazing. It's a good time to be a whiskey fan!
What is the highest quality whiskey with an inexpensive price tag, and what is the lowest quality whiskey with an expensive price tag? SM: I'm going to tread lightly, but I recently re-tried the Talisker 25 (review coming soon) and I have to say, I was disappointed.
As to the other end of the spectrum, I was quite surprised by the Irishman 12 year.
If we are talking about under $20, I'd say Old Overholt.
I'm a hopeless peathead. At all times I have a bottle of Ardbeg and one of cask strength Laphroaig on hand. Have you had any special bottlings of something peaty (Uigeadail, Supernova) that you'd recommend, and what are some other distilleries to sample given my love of peat? SM: I love peat! The Supernova is less fruity and more bacon, grassy than the Uigeadail. I'd recommend, if you like the very peaty style to give the Bruichladdich Octomore series a try.
Longrow from Springbank would be another.
How do you prefer to drink a cask strength scotch of around 60%? SM: I always try the whiskey neat (without water) first. The aroma and taste are almost always more muted without water. I then will add a few drops of water. I just ask the bartender for a straw and a glass of water without ice. I usually don't add ice to my Scotch, but will do occasionally to my Bourbon.
The reason for not adding ice to Scotch is, for me a climate thing. I'm usually drinking Scotch when it is cool and Bourbon when it is warm out. I also think that the sweeter Bourbon can hold up to some ice. I try to use larger cubes so I don't dilute the whiskey too much.
How does one go straight from being legal and not distilling a thing to being a fully operational licensed distillery? SM: Bureaucracy aside, I'd say Money and patience.
With the new Wish List feature rolling out are there plans to include a friends feature so we can quickly look at ratings, wishlists and top shelf lists for people we drink with? MM: Well first off, thanks for using Distiller and for knowing that we just rolled out the Wish List! Hope you like it, and that you are able to use it successfully to force your loved ones to buy you many many whiskey presents. We have talked a lot about friends within Distiller and it is in the product roadmap. We wanted to make sure that you only see content from people you care about because if you're seeing whiskey reviews from a bunch of strangers who know more than you or just think they know more than you it might be off putting. Anyway, that was a long answer for yes - we want to do it. As you can imagine it's a big undertaking, but we are definitely fast approaching that point!
Do you listen to the Distillers while you work? It seems appropriate. MM: Not for many, many years. Are they still a band?
I have been switching to whiskey more and more in the past year. I'm not going to say I have had a lot but my favorites so far are Lagavullin 16 which is just their regular and The Macallan 15. Just curious what you think about these? Edit: 15 not 12. MM: I like them both, the Lagavulin more than the Macallan if I'm being honest. There are so many superb single malts it's hard to go wrong. Personally I've always been a big fan of The Glenrothes (1998 especially). I tend to like Speysides more than anything else but I'm coming around more and more to peat and smoke. Stephanie is a peat lover, I'm more of a sweet and spicy kind of guy.
What should be my first drink when I turn 21, for now I'm going with coffee mixed with Bailey's. comments, suggestions? MM: something tells me you won't remember the first one anyway. I sure don't :). Just have fun, take it easy, and if you want to really start getting into whiskey don't let anybody tell you what's good and what isn't. Try all sorts of things and find what you prefer. The tastes are so vastly different across the spectrum I feel like there's something for everyone.
So interesting to hear and thanks for answering my question. I will have to give the Glenrothes and some speysides a try. Also thanks for such a great app and website that I can use and recommend for me and my friends to use. MM: thank you for using it!! We are in this as a business but first and foremost as fans ourselves. When I hear people are using it and like it I can't help but get all giddy.
Do you guys get any free samples from distillers and would you bring them to the next time you play the Game of Thrones board game and give them to the fattest guy at the table? MM: Go Kings.
What is your view on water and ice in whiskey... MM: Water and ice in whiskey are just fine. Lots of people will act pretentious about it and tell you there's one right way to drink it, but there really isn't. Water can help bring the proof of a really strong whiskey down, it can open up some of the smells and tastes, and if you like your whiskey cool, then you are allowed to have your whiskey cool! The only thing I'd say is if you put a lot of ice in the whiskey it's going to melt and then you'll get a very watery drink that only vaguely tastes like whiskey, so be careful of that. If you want to smell all of the notes in the whiskey, try smelling it neat (no ice or water) first before adding anything.
Canadian from TOronto here, can you recommend any whiskey's for a young fellow to get introduced to and purchase in my native LCBO. SM: Okay, just taking a quick gander at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario's website offerings, I'd recommend Four Roses Small Batch and Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon. American whiskeys seem to be much more expensive, but also not sure if these are Canadian dollars or not. That said, Scotch seems to be far cheaper in Canada than in the US.
No questions, just want to say bourbon is sunlight held together by water and you guys are doing amazing work. MM: Why thank you
As far as I know beer and wine are legal to make for yourself in the US, though there may be state / local restrictions. You can legally distill moonshine for fuel use in the US (may vary by state) with a permit which I believe runs about $400. You must mix it with at least 2% gasoline. MM: TIL people can mix moonshine with gasoline to fuel their cars.
Your app is giving me a bourboner. Thanks for the hard work! MM: New favorite word. Stealing it, nothing you can do about it.
You may want to take a look at the app Barreled. It's built around sharing whiskey ratings with friends. MM: I take it you're the creator of Barreled, seeing as this is your second recommendation of it in this thread.
Do you ever find yourself doing something so pretentious or hipster-y that you want to kick your own asses? MM: By definition I don't think I'm allowed to be a hipster. I'm bald and kind of doughy. No cool mustache on my face or victrola in my home either. Sorry to let you down. :/
Don't sell yourself short. With the right flannel shirt, I bet you could make it work. (thanks for humoring my silly question!) MM: I DO own a flannel shirt... it's pretty old and doesn't fit very well. Maybe I could be a hipster yet!
Last updated: 2014-04-22 18:38 UTC
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