First, recognize that there is an absolutely enormous range of tastes under the rubric “whiskey,” from stuff that is almost as sweet as cough syrup to stuff that, even to some veteran scotch drinkers, tastes worse than paint thinner. So don’t suppose that because you haven’t liked a few whiskeys you’ve tried that there are no whiskeys you will like.
Although I may be abused by other whiskey drinkers for suggesting this, you might want to start with a smooth, “easy” whiskey like Canadian Club. I think most people would find it a relatively pleasant, if not particularly exciting or notable, whiskey. If you like it well enough to drink it fairly often, it may get you accustomed to the basic tastes of whiskey. (I’m not dead set on CC. Although I don’t particularly care for bourbons or sour mashes, if you prefer Jack Daniels or some other American whiskey, start there.)
Once you’ve been drinking some “beginner” whiskey for a while, try varying your tipple a little: sample scotches, Irish whiskys, and so on. The easy way to do this without spending lots of money and risking getting stuck with bottles of stuff you hate is to buy miniatures.
When I was in college, some friends and I had a blind scotch testing. We bought miniatures of a dozen different scotches, and poured each into identical glasses (numbered so that we could later tell which was which). We first sniffed each one, took notes on the aroma, and then took a small sip, and made notes about the taste. We then compared our notes and finally revealed the names. Surprisingly, Johnny Walker Red, probably the best known name among the ones we tested, was at the bottom of pretty much everyone’s list (“smells like dirty gym socks”).
The advantage of a blind test is that you find out what you really like, unbiased by your own preconceptions or clever marketing campaigns. (I suspect if most people who have a favorite brand of vodka ever participated in a blind test, they’d find they couldn’t tell their favorite from the cheapest rail vodka.)
That college test was how I learned that I like single malts generally, and Glenlivet in particular. I also learned that even small sips of twelve scotches is enough to get you pretty drunk. I’d recommend no more than six or eight whiskeys per test.
So if you have a few friends who might enjoy this experiment, give it a shot. Or just bring home one or two new miniatures every time you go to the liquor store.