How To Drink Whiskey: A Starter Guide

November 20, 2018

How To Drink Whiskey: A Starter Guide

Whiskey…or whisky. Whether it’s spelled with an ‘e’ or not, this delicious amber liquid is loved throughout the world. In order to better understand this spirit let’s dive into the things you need to know to make your next experience something to remember. We’ll discuss types, glassware, and how to drink this warming liquor. 


American Whiskey

These types of whiskey are made in America and aged in oak barrels. There are a few different styles within this category. First is bourbon, which must be distilled from at least 51% corn. Second is rye, which must be distilled from at least 51% rye. Lastly, is Tennessee whiskey, which is bourbon made in Tennessee and charcoal filtered. They have a tendency to lean towards the sweeter side, aren’t as smokey, and are very approachable. 

Scottish Whisky

Spelled without the ‘e’, Scotch is one of the more widely known types of this spirit. It must be made with malted barley - the defining grain for this type of whisky - but can also include other grains, and it must be aged in oak casks for at least 3 years. Another important aspect of Scotch is whether or not it is peated - drying the malted barley over peat which lends a smoky, oily flavor. This particular flavor profile is something people generally love or hate. The type of cask the whisky is aged in will also lend a unique flavor. Scotch is extremely varied in its flavor profile, dependent on traditions and the environment in the particular area for each distillery. You can go from light fruits and sweetness to oily, and peaty - basically BBQ in a glass.

Irish Whiskey

This whiskey is distilled in Ireland and wood cask aged for a minimum of three years. It is typically blended and un-peated (but there are always exceptions to the rule), and many of these whiskeys are triple distilled. Irish whiskey must include malted barley but can also include other cereal grains. Its flavor profile is generally light and fruity with evident cereal grain notes. 

Canadian Whisky

Produced in Canada, this whisky is typically a blended multi-grain liquor. Most of this whisky is made with corn, but rye is also used frequently. It tends to be made from a lighter, triple distilled grain spirit mixed with a small portion of a richer flavoring spirit (typically rye but it can also be corn). Flavors range from bourbon-like vanilla and toffee, to fruity and spicy. 

Japanese Whisky

This whisky is inspired by Scottish whisky - which is also why they leave out the ‘e’. Just like Scotch, it relies heavily on malted barley. It is also aged in wood casks but those can vary from American oak, Sherry casks, or even Japanese Mizunara oak which imparts a citrusy spicy flavor. Japanese distilleries do not share with each other, so innovation comes from within each distillery. Because of this, it is difficult to pinpoint a unifying style, but generally, they focus on refining and perfecting their product. They tend to be restrained and elegant. 


If you feel like drinking your whiskey out of a paper cup, go for it. But if you want to get the most out of your drink you should really consider proper glassware. First of all, make sure it is glass since other materials can alter the flavor. Probably the most common glassware will be a classic lowball tumbler - we have a thing for cut crystal glassware but that’s just us. If you want to get fancy, then consider trying a Glencairn glass. These tulip shaped glasses concentrate the vapors and flavors in the whiskey allowing you to really get the full aroma. 

Water, Ice, or Neat

This depends on you as an individual. We would suggest always trying the whiskey neat first. This is how the distillery intended you to taste it. Once you’ve done that feel free to leave it as is, or maybe add some water. Adding water can actually open up the flavors in the whiskey allowing you to pick up on things you may not have noticed without it. It lowers the ABV a little which also helps notice flavors a bit better. When adding water do it bit by bit, otherwise, you may dilute it too much. The last option is adding ice. This will numb your palate a bit and in turn dull the flavors. If you just want a cold glass of whiskey, go ahead and add ice. Consider large orbs of ice, instead of regular ice cubes, to avoid diluting your drink too much. Our suggestion - if you want to really taste and experience your whiskey start neat then add water if you’d like. 


If you don’t feel like sipping on straight whiskey and want something new or just can’t handle the taste of whiskey then consider a cocktail. There is so much diversity within whiskey that it can be fun experimenting with the flavors. If you want to try out a cocktail check out our post on 5 classic whiskey cocktails

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