Life's too short to be behind the eight-ball when it comes to whisky. Anyone can enjoy - or pretend to enjoy - a drop of the gentleman's drink. I'm not advocating for a pretentious vocal tasting summary every time you're out for a session with your mates, but rather ensuring you nail the basics of the subject every well-educated man should be familiar with.
Whisky at first glance...
Whisky - Yeah, we're doing this. I felt I had to, because it's such an unnecessary point of discussion and needs to be cleared up. 'Whisky' is typically the spelling of the spirit from Scotland, Canada & Japan.
Whiskey - This spelling, on the other hand, originates from America & Ireland. Though some American bourbons such as Maker's Mark use the Scottish spelling as a nod to their ancestral heritage, you don't need to be too fussy, just know your shit and stick to the basic rule.
Cask Strength - Whisky bottled at the proof of which it came straight out of the barrel. 'Cask' and 'barrel' mean the same thing - in Scotland these casks must be legally made from oak.
Proof - The amount of alcohol in a liquid compared to volume. In the UK it's 1.75 times the alcohol by volume (ABV), in the U.S. it's twice the ABV.
Cooperage - The art of aging whiskies in barrels. 70-80% of a whisky's taste comes from the cooperage, which is basically varying levels of oxidisation and extraction in tandem with the barrel. American bourbons, whiskeys, and ryes use new barrels, while pretty much everything else uses secondhand American or Sherry barrels.
Malt - Grain that's sprouted (therefore turning its starch into sugar) and then toasted. This makes for a sweet whisky but it doesn't come cheap.
Neat - This might seem simple but bare with me. Whisky 'neat' is just the poison served in a glass. By itself. No ice, no water.
Dram - A shot measurement of the kind of whisky you're not meant to shoot.
When giving your thoughts on the drop...
Balanced - The flavours blend well, with none of them overwhelming the palate.
Estery - An Ester is a chemical compound that has a fruity, flowery taste and smell.
Warm - Some whiskies may actually give you a warming feel in your mouth as if the spirit was heated before you drank it. The best way to describe such a sensation.
Dry - It's astringent, i.e feels sharp and chokes some flavours on your taste buds. Minimal to no sweetness at all.
Finish - Like many spirits and wines, a whisky's finish is how it lingers in the mouth and is one of the most defining factors of quality.
Heather - When drinking Scotch only. Heather is a plant that grows in the Highlands, though nobody eats it and few even know what it smells like. A safe bet if you're out of synonyms. Other descriptions can include those like creamy, harsh, malty, oaky, peppery, smokey - anything really.
Other handy terms to verse yourself in...
Expression - A different version of the same whisky. Usually championed by distillers to sell more product by tweaking its age, proof, cooperage, etc.
Extraction - Whisky is a solvent that extracts various traits from the barrels it is aged in.
Handcrafted - Basically means shit all.
Small batch - Pretty much the same as handcrafted, it doesn't hold any legal significance.
Speyside - Scotland's largest and most famous whisky distilling region of the country.
Fun fact - Because of the temperatures experienced in the southern United States, most bourbons distilled there age two-three times as fast as whiskies from Scotland. So an 8-year-old bourbon would share similar qualities to a 20-year-old Scotch.