Whiskey might just be the greatest beverage on the planet. It’s diverse, it’s versatile, it’s intoxicating, and it’s almost always delicious. To help you get the most of this hallowed spirit, we thought you’d enjoy this brief guide on how to drink whiskey. Yes, we know the act of drinking is as simple as it gets (down the hatch!), but we’ve called upon Nicola Riske — the U.S. Brand Ambassador for The Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark blended scotch whiskies — to help us better understand the nuances of whiskey drinking.
Introduction to Whiskey
If you’re a frequent visitor to The Manual, then you probably don’t need an introduction to whiskey. In fact, there’s a decent chance you’re nursing a tumbler at this very moment. Still, learning more about the wide world of whiskey can help boost your enjoyment. Here’s what Nicola has to say on the matter:
“There are so many different whiskeys all over the world. It’s an incredible thing that three very simple ingredients — grain, water, and yeast — can create so many beautiful flavors and characteristics you can enjoy. Nowadays, you can enjoy Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, Japanese whisky, Canadian whisky, and there are whiskeys being made in France, South Africa, and Australia. There are so many whiskeys to explore, and they’re all so complex.”
Curious about the different spellings of “whiskey”? Check out this page: Whiskey vs Whisky
If there’s a theme to this guide, it’s “exploration.” There’s no one right way to drink all whiskeys — instead, enjoying this beverage is a personal journey that could easily change from week to week, day to day, drink to drink. The protocol outlined in this guide works well with any whiskey under the golden sun — from bourbon to scotch to rye.
The next time you have a glass of whiskey, resist the urge to immediately toss ice into it. You’ll find that many whiskeys are greatly enhanced by ice, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t at least try the whiskey neat. “I always say start with it neat,” says Nicola, “see how you enjoy it. See how the aromas hit your nose, and how those flavors dance across your palate.”
If you find that you don’t like your whiskey neat, that’s totally fine. After all, your palate is your own; what works for others may not always work for you. “Whiskeys typically run 40% or 43% ABV (alcohol by volume), which is pretty high,” says Nicola. “For those who aren’t used to drinking their spirits neat, it can be quite intimidating and a shock to the palate. That’s when I say add a couple drops of water to it.”
Drops of Water
If you’re new to the world of whiskey, you might roll your eyes at the prospect of adding a few drops of water. How could a drop of water make a difference? Nicola explains: “Adding water to whiskey is like adding oxygen to wine; it opens it up new flavors and aromas and changes the molecular structure of the whiskey so you can fully appreciate everything that the whiskey has to offer.”
The easiest way to add drops to your whiskey is with a glass of water and a straw. Simply add a drop, give your whiskey a swirl, take a sip, and repeat until you find the pleasing flavors you’re looking for. Nicola warns against over-diluting your whiskey by adding too much water too soon. You can always add more water, but you can’t take it away.
On the Rocks
Ordering a whiskey “on the rocks” may sound cool, but it may not necessarily be what you want. “Ice is going to add something different,” says Nicola. “It will chill your whiskey, and in doing so, it may chill certain flavor compounds while enhancing others.”
As for the type of ice, you’re best off going with a large ice cube (1.5 to 2 inch) or ice ball. Small cubes or chunks of ice will melt faster than larger pieces, diluting your whiskey more quickly. If you want the chilling effect without the dilution, you might consider adding chilled whiskey stones.
If you simply don’t like the taste of whiskey by itself, or if you’re looking for a new way to enjoy whiskey, we urge you to try it in a classic cocktail. “I think a lot of people have that one way they like, and for others, it could change every day,” says Nicola. “For me, I look outside and ask, what’s the weather? What’s the occasion? What am I wearing? Who am I with? What am I craving? All of these things are going to play into which whiskey I select and whether I’m going to enjoy it neat, on the rocks, or in a classic cocktail.” Without further ado, here are a few tasty cocktail recipes, each of which uses either The Famous Grouse or Cutty Sark blended scotch whisky.
- 2 oz smoky blended scotch whisky (we recommend The Black Grouse)
- 1 sugar cube
- club soda
- 1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1-2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass. Wet it down with 1-2 dashes of Angostura & Orange bitters and a short splash of water or club soda. Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler. Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining. Add a large ice cube. Pour in the blended scotch whisky. Garnish with a long orange twist.
- 1 (1-liter) bottle bourbon or blended scotch whisky (we recommend The Famous Grouse)
- 1.5 quarts fresh apple cider
- 2 cups brown sugar syrup*
- 2 cups lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 24 oz pear nectar
- 10 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6
Add all ingredients into a large punch bowl and stir. Garnish with orange peels and lemon wheels.
*Brown sugar simple syrup: 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of hot water. Stir until dissolved and cooled.*
- 1.5 oz rye whiskey or high-proof blended scotch whisky (we recommend Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition)
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz sweet vermouth (we recommend Carpano Antica)
Stir and serve on the rocks with an orange twist.
Learning how to drink whiskey will bring your enjoyment of this spirit to glorious new heights. Keeping the above information in mind, you’ll find it easy to enjoy whiskey just the way you like it every time. Here’s a closing statement from Nicola:
“I think the most important thing is not what your friend is drinking — it’s about appreciating your palate and what flavors you like. You must recognize that there’s a whiskey for every occasion, for every moment, and it’s important to enjoy that and embrace it.”