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A sophisticated primer for how to drink whiskey

Chances are, you already have a preferred way of indulging in the king of spirits. Whether you’ve always taken your whiskey neat, or wouldn’t think of making a drink without ice, we’re here to say that there’s no wrong way to drink whiskey. But if you’re like us, and evangelizing to the masses about the glories of whiskey is one of your favorite pastimes, it’s important to have a firm grasp on all the different ways you might invite a guest to partake. On that note, let’s do a quick review of the four most popular ways to enjoy a good pour. And then, read on for some insider tips about how to really drink whiskey like a professional …

Straight/neat. No ice, no mixer, served at room temperature. The simple elegance of this style has been romanticized in Hollywood for generations. Russel Greene, bar supervisor at Arizona’s Castle Hot Springs, believes glassware can make all the difference. “For whisky neat, I have always loved the Riedel Single Malt glass — super fine crystal, clean lip, noses properly,” Greene says. 

On the rocks. One to three ice cubes clanking around a glass is a must for the on-the-rocks crowd. This approach is not recommended for drinking the highest-end whiskey because ice dulls the taste buds, but for a less premium whiskey it can be a refreshing option. Greene has a top choice for this style as well. “For on the rocks, a large tumbler is my go-to, something sturdy and heavy, with a nice lip.”

Splash of water. A bit of water enhances the aromas and softens the finish of a fine whiskey. Water gives molecules more space to evaporate, which makes the aromas more accessible. Some aficionados find that water tamps down the boozy taste of whiskey and allows for improved enjoyment of those nuanced flavors. A wide-brimmed glass, sometimes with a tulip shape to concentrate aromas near the face, is always a good bet for whiskey and water.

In a cocktail. Greene sees a definite generational preference when it comes to the cocktail crowd. “Younger drinkers request cocktails more often than not, and the 40 and up crowd tend toward whisky neat or on the rocks,” he says. “Plenty of younger guests will get whiskies, but I feel there are fewer due to the time it takes to develop an appreciative palate for whisky and spirits in general.” Whether you drink them or not, being able to make a few choice whiskey cocktails is a classy move. Here are two OGs you should have in your repertoire.


2 ounces rye or bourbon

1 ounce sweet vermouth

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Old Fashioned 

1 sugar cube

2 dashes Angostura bitters

2 ounces rye or bourbon

These recipes, according to New York Times Cooking experts, take two minutes to make. If you want to get fancy, you can add cocktail cherries or orange twists for garnish. Try a coupe glass for the Manhattan and a rocks glass for the Old Fashioned.

Take it a Step Further With Whiskey Tastings

Understanding the most common ways to drink whiskey is one thing, but keeping up with the new craft whiskeys popping up around every corner is quite another. The fact is that staying on top of trends in the wild world of whiskey can be a true challenge. So what’s a whiskey enthusiast to do? One solution is to make time for regular whiskey tastings, either in your own home or at the local distillery. Tasting whiskey in this deliberate, thoughtful way will expand your palate and build your expertise.

The first decision is whether to sample a flight of whiskeys, or limit the tasting to just one or two. Some whiskey aficionados enjoy owning a piece of the whiskey making process through ownership of a single barrel of bourbon, rye, Scotch or Japanese whisky. This allows the flexibility to sample whiskey at different stages of the maturation process. Barrel Global’s online marketplace is one way to make this possible. 

You can also mix-and match the exciting craft whiskeys available at your local distributor. Whichever route you decide to go, there are some important things to keep in mind.

Renowned whisky expert, critic, and collector Nate Ganapathi knows as much as anyone about preparing for a whiskey tasting. Ganapathi is one of the leading voices in the world of scotch and whiskey, and co-founder of Bevridge, an e-commerce and educational platform specializing in tastings of premium, high-end whiskies. He offers some tips that will help you get the most out of your next tasting.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Snacks are a must. For cleansing the palate between sips, Ganapathi suggests having French bread, mild cheese, and celery at hand. To complement the whiskey as you savor it, think bacon, spiced nuts, wasabi peas, breadsticks, and chocolate squares.

Order matters. If you’re going to sample peated whiskey, Ganapathi says either stick to that style for the entire flight, or save the smoky ones for the very end. Otherwise its strong flavor will blow out your taste buds for any lighter, fruitier flavors you may be sampling. Also, taste the best quality whiskeys first. By the end, he says, your mouth is somewhat desensitized, so it makes more sense to enjoy the more high-end whiskeys beforehand. 

Add water, but skip the ice. “Taste through the whiskey once, add some drops of water, and try it again,” says Ganapathi. Warm or hot water will open the pores of the whiskey and allow its subtle flavors to come to the surface. He doesn’t recommend ice for tastings because cold liquids cause your taste buds to contract, much like a cold shower does with your pores. Ganapathi estimates that this closing of the taste buds will leave you able to taste just 20 to 30 percent of what you otherwise would have.  

The Mechanics of Tasting 

Once you’ve decided on which whiskeys to sample and loaded up the snack bowls, it’s time for the real excitement to begin. You already know how to drink whiskey, so don’t get too hung up on the mechanics of the tasting process. We’ve included some suggestions to enhance the experience below, but the main goal is to have fun and expand your whiskey horizons.

Small pours. Keep it classy with an ounce or two in each glass.

Swirl and sniff. Slowly spin the glass around until whiskey coats the sides. Bring the glass close to your nose, breathe in the aromas, and think about the various flavor notes. If you want to up your game in this area, you might consider investing in a whiskey nosing kit. Some kits include real ingredients like vanilla, cocoa, and caramel to help whiskey drinkers to identify the subtle flavors in their favorite spirits. 

“Chew” your whiskey. Allow the liquor to slowly roll around in your mouth. Make sure the taste buds on your tongue are fully exposed to each flavor. 

Breathe through your nose. As you swallow, allow the aromas to rise into your sinuses. This will help you appreciate the finer points of the whiskey’s unique finish.

Whether you’re indulging in a one-of-a kind whiskey from your own personal barrel or sampling the newest releases from your local distillery, we hope this guide has provided some food for thought. And if you want to know more about Barrel Global’s barrel ownership options, we’d love to help. That’s because we’re on a mission to make whiskey barrel ownership accessible to collectors worldwide. As the first ever global marketplace for whiskey barrels, you can connect with distilleries and collectors around the world to build your own portfolio. For a whiskey experience unlike any other, request access today. 

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