How to drink whiskey: a go-to guide from novice to expert

How to drink whiskey

Mark Twain famously said, “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” It’s safe to say that with distilleries routinely popping up and dotting the map from coast to coast, this is truer now than maybe any other time. “We’re in the middle of whiskey’s golden age, with more brands and varieties available than ever before,” says spirits expert Noah Rothbaum, author of The Art of American Whiskey. Whiskey, it seems, is having a moment. 

But as longtime fans would know, whiskey has been enjoyed for centuries with famous men imbibing regularly, and shows like Mad Men featuring it front and center. Even George Washington himself credited whiskey as his drink of choice. If you’ve always had a vision of becoming the next Don Draper, or simply want to acquire a taste for the finest craft spirits, whiskey is the most adult thing you can order. But first you have to know how to enjoy it. Whether you’re a whiskey-tasting novice or an expert looking to branch out, this go-to guide shoots it straight and covers how to drink whiskey and what to order. 

The four most popular ways to enjoy a good pour

Turn yourself into a connoisseur with these taste-testing rules for drinking whiskey. Even though there are many different types of whiskey to taste, these four ways of drinking it can be applied to any kind. 

Enjoy whiskey straight or neat

If you want a taste that is just straight up booze, ordering your whiskey neat is the ticket. Drinking whiskey straight is reserved for people who truly love the taste of alcohol and may be too much bold flavor for someone just starting to enjoy craft spirits. However, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t at least try the whiskey neat because tossing in water or ice not only enhances but also changes the flavor. A glass of straight whiskey can be a serious jolt to your taste buds and if that’s the case, you may try adding a splash of water.  

Adding water can enhance the taste

Here’s an interesting fact: water is a key ingredient when it comes to how whiskey is made. As such, if drinking your whiskey neat is too much, adding a couple of drops of water can make a big difference in the flavor and aroma. Why is it that adding water whiskey enhances the flavor? A splash of water releases hydrophobic (water repellent) elements in the liquor, which allows more aromas to come to the surface. At the same time it also lowers the alcohol content giving you more flavors to taste. Start by adding a drop of water to your glass, give it a swirl and then take a sip. The bigger the splash of water, the more diluted your whiskey will become so you can keep adding until you achieve your desired flavor.  

What about whiskey on the rocks?

Ordering whiskey on the rocks may not be what you’re expecting. The whiskey may be cold, but the ice also numbs your taste buds and can dull the overall flavor. If you must add ice, bigger is better. Small cubes or chunks of ice will melt quickly, diluting your whiskey faster. A large ice cube or an ice ball would work best. Whiskey stones can add a chilling effect minus the dilution. 

Try it in a classic cocktail

Novice whiskey drinkers may like this option the best as it eases them into acquiring a taste for the bold spirit. Trying a classic cocktail is also preferred for people who simply don’t like the taste of the whiskey by itself. A Manhattan, Hot Toddy, Whiskey Sour or an Old Fashioned are all popular whiskey cocktail recipes. Or try taking a time-tested recipe, where you wouldn’t expect whiskey, and swapping it in for one of the liquors it calls for. Pro tip: rye whiskey is especially good in a cocktail recipe because of its assertive flavor.   

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