How to Drink Whiskey

June 13, 2018

There are some whiskey drinkers who scoff at the idea of adding anything but whiskey to their glasses. The very idea for some is that by not drinking whiskey straight you are somehow weak or unsophisticated. This way of thinking, of course, is ridiculous. There shouldn’t be hard and fast rules for drinking whiskey. There is a time and a place for every scenario. That said, we do have some suggestions to optimize your drinking, regardless of your preferred habits.

If only all pours could be endless


The type of glass in which you drink your whiskey will make a difference to how you will experience the drink. Glencairn or sherry copitas are great for evaluating whiskey – and what we use while writing our reviews. The design of these glasses allow the nuances of the whiskey to shine. If you are looking to be a bit more cerebral about what you are drinking, we recommend you drink from these.

More common for daily use would be a rocks or Old Fashioned glass. Their heavy bottoms lend some gravitas to your drink regardless of whether you are drinking an every day bourbon or a 16 year-old single malt.

Large Ice Cube / Photo Credit: Ashlee Meyer


Speaking of rocks glasses, these glasses are perfect for when you want to add ice to your drink. Some whiskeys, notably high-proof bourbon, do quite well with some cubes added. Home imbibers, we would suggest that you consider the ice just as much as you are considering the whiskey. Think about purchasing large cube, silicone ice trays. The larger the cube, the slower the dilution and colder your drink will remain. Please don’t use the ice your freezer makes.


Since we’re talking about ice, now seems like a good time to discuss water. Adding a few drops of water to your whiskey opens up the aromas and flavors. You can buy an eyedropper or do what we do and use a straw. But, depending upon where you live, you may have really hard water or fluoride added to your water. In this case, you might ponder filtering your tap water or even better, buy some spring water for your whiskey drinking needs. And if you like your whiskey with ice, make sure to use that water to make ice. Just make sure to tell others in your household to keep their hands off!

Water and Glencairn Whisky Glass


The alcohol content, which is required to be on every whiskey label, can guide you as to whether and how much ice or water to add to your glass. Over time, you’ll learn what your preferences are. For me, if a whiskey is 50% ABV or greater, I add a few drops of water to open it up a bit, but your mileage may vary. Give your whiskeys a tiny taste neat (no ice) at room temperature and judge for yourself. By the way, if you’re not drinking a cask-strength whiskey, you’re already drinking water-added whiskey. The whiskey brand added that for you. So keep an open mind here.


Soda in your whiskey is totally acceptable, but maybe don’t add it to an 18-year single malt Scotch. If I see this again (yes, I bore witness to this), I will plead the case to use a younger blend instead.


We are big fans of whiskey cocktails. If you are new to drinking whiskey, consider starting here. Classics are classics for a reason. We recommend a Manhattan which uses either bourbon or rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters and is garnished with a Maraschino cherry. You could also try an Old-Fashioned or a Highball.

Old Fashioned Cocktail


The hardest, and our favorite, part is choosing which whiskey to drink. Well, we’ve got a few thousand suggestions for you. But think about what I said at the beginning. There is a time and place for everything. Your geography or the weather are often good places to start when trying to make your choice. Where in the world are you, Carmen Sandiego? Are you in Seattle in the dead of winter? Maybe think about having an Islay single malt with a splash of water to fully embrace the grey. Are you by the pool grilling burgers? How about a bourbon on the rocks (splash of ginger ale goes nicely here)? Solo cups here are totally appropriate, by the way.


Don’t aggressively swirl your glass of whiskey as you would a wine. The proof for wine is considerably lower than that of whiskey. Swirling the glass and then sticking your nose in the glass will burn. Gently turning the whiskey in the glass is a much better idea. Also, when smelling a whiskey, open your mouth slightly. This way, the alcohol will have a way to escape and you get to enjoy the whiskey more completely.

Don’t fill your glasses to the rim. You should pour a couple of ounces to your glass so that you have room to fully enjoy the aromas in the whiskey. Unless, that is, you are drinking from a shot glass, in which case – cheers!

Now that you know how to drink whiskey, it’s time to find the right bottle.

With Distiller, you’ll always know what’s in the bottle before you spend a cent. Rate, Review, and Discover spirits! Head on over to Distiller, or download the app for iOS and Android today!

You may also like...