As one of the first five Americans to be named a Master of Scotch, Rick Edwards knows from whisky. The Des Moines native’s ancestors hail from Scotland and Norway, which may or may not have led him to develop a passion for Scotch. He recently chatted with us about the mysteries and magic surrounding his favorite brown liquor.

What does it mean to be a Master of Scotch?
I’m in a different city every week, constantly traveling. What I do is really education-based. I train bartenders and wait staff… In the evenings, we’ll have whisky-pairing dinners where I’ll meet with chefs and go through a menu and pair certain whiskies with certain foods. I encourage people to join The Glenlivet Guardians (must be 21 and over), which is a consumer website that you can join. Members get invited to special whisky tastings and events.

How did you get started?
I don’t think I chose Scotch. It chose me. When people ask me, “When you’re not drinking Scotch, what are you drinking?” I usually say, “Water.”

What do you look for in a Scotch?
Initially, it’s that first impression it makes on me. It’s like when you first meet someone and shake their hand. Sometimes, you just know you’re going to get along with that person. Then, I always look for where the finish will take me.

What sets The Glenlivet apart?
What I love about The Glenlivet is that it’s not a linear range. What I mean is this: when you’re drinking the 12 Year Old or the 15 or the 18, a lot of people think it’s the same whisky, just aged longer. But every expression has a different wood maturation. So, you end up with different styles just within the range itself. Take the 12 Year: it’s aged in American oak, so it’s soft, fruity, floral. The 15 is aged in French oak, so it’s spicy and nutty. The 18 Year, aged in used bourbon and sherry casks, has a lot of butterscotch, toffee and bitter orange coming through.

What’s a good beginner Scotch?
For me, it’s The Glenlivet 15 Year Old. It has complexity and layers. However, the 12 Year Old, being the no. 1–selling single malt in the world, it just draws you in. It’s fruity and floral, vanilla and honey. But I prefer the 15 Year Old for those extra layers.

What’s the best way to drink Scotch?
I get that question everyday and I always say: “In Scotland.” Seriously, drink it however you want to drink it. However, I will tell you the facts: water will open up your whisky; ice will shut it down. Neither way is wrong. Even I like my whisky on the rocks. But if you’re judging a whisky, you’ll want to add at least a centiliter of water – that’s a water bottle capful. Our master blender will do up to 50% water when he’s tasting a new whisky.

What about in cocktails?
You can use Scotch whisky for cocktails. I recently had a Scotch mojito. One of the best-known Scotch drinks is the Blood and Sand. I myself am not a mixologist, so a Scotch and ginger ale is a go-to for me.

What’s one of the biggest myths about Scotch?
Every distillery has its own unique water source. And it’s so important how each one uses it. But, in fact, it only contributes 1-3% of the overall flavor.

Any favorite Scotch pairings?
I always refer to The Glenlivet 18 Year Old as the quintessential after-dinner dram. That doesn’t mean it’s a dessert whisky; it just sits nicely on the palate after a steak. There’s 3% more alcohol in the 18 and after a meal, you’re ready for it.

Any unexpected pairings?
One day, I was drinking The Glenlivet 15 Year, which is my favorite. I ordered some chips and guacamole and it was just this happy accident. The French oak with the spicy guacamole were a match made in heaven. People always laugh when I bring it up, then I get these texts from around the country saying, “Hey, you were right!”

Best whisky moment?
I’ve had many memorable moments in Scotland. But one time I was in Beverly Hills and had just bought a new Armani suit. It started raining and I didn’t want to get my suit wet. So, I ducked into this little hotel and ordered a Scotch. The gentleman sitting next to me was smoking a cigar and the aromas just blended beautifully with the whisky. It was a total a-ha moment. You don’t have to go to Scotland to have a memorable moment with whisky. It can happen in your own backyard.

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