How You Should Drink Whiskey

By Craig Ellis
Author Bio: Craig's love for all things whiskey began when he visited his first distillery, Talisker in 2006. During his free time, he likes to visit distilleries around the globe, planning his travel around these locations. Craig created The Pot Still in 2016 when he first started to collect rare and unusual whiskeys. His whiskey collection has grown and grown since. Craig writes and reviews independently and is not commissioned by any brand or distillery. Craig's views and opinions are his own.
How You Should Drink Whiskey - Whiskey Glasses - Irish Whiskey - Virtual Whiskey Tastings - The Pot Still

For years I've been answering the age-old question for those new to whiskey. "How you should drink whiskey?" There’s no right or wrong way to drink whisky. As long as you enjoy it, that’s all that matters. However, there are ways that you can appreciate whiskey even more so. 

Where do we even start with whiskey? There are so many variations, styles, cocktails, that it can be a daunting task on where to start. The first thing to think about is trying different glasses.


Tuath Whiskey glass - Irish Whiskey - THe Pot Still - IrishMaltsExperiment with different glasses; for neat whiskey, the best glass to use is a Túath or a Glencairn tasting glass, essentially a tulip-shaped glass to help view the colour of the whiskey but also to nose the vapours. A huge part of the flavour of food and drink comes from the way it smells, and whiskey is no exception. Take a moment to enjoy the aroma. For long whiskey drinks, use a highball glass that’s tall, slim and straight-sided. 

Whiskey Glasses - Irish Whiskey The Pot Still

Smelling Whiskey

Ah yes, the nose. This is perhaps the most important part of assessing a whiskey. Most drams will reveal more to your olfactory system than to your palate; in fact, as most experts will say, tasting is simply to confirm what your nose has already told you.

But what does it tell you? First, give the whiskey a swirl to release the aromas then carefully bring it to your nose. Be warned however that the olfactory system is highly delicate, so don’t shove your nose into anything before checking the abv. Most cask-strength beast whiskeys have the potential to singe your sinuses (not really) so go easy on them. 

What to look for in the smell? Search your mind for nostalgia! Smells are often linked to memories: grandfather’s desk (leather, wood, age, mustiness), Christmas with the family (Christmas cake, dried fruits, sultanas, port), a hayloft in summer (dried grass, wood), a BBQ on the beach (salt, smoke, seaweed). Everyone will have their own memories, thus everyone will find their own descriptive adjectives and words to describe what they smell.

Tasting Whiskey

There are 5 simple steps to follow when tasting whiskey:

  1. Look at the Colour
    Hold the glass up to the light, ranging from white wine to a dark amber. Colour comes from the influence of the wood cask, the longer it has had in the barrel, the type of wood or char, and also what was previously in the barrel. Some distilleries add a natural caramel colouring to whiskey to make it more approachable if young/pale.
  2. Have a smell, not an inhale
    Your nose is very sensitive, don’t upset it! Smell it gently with your mouth slightly open. Try dip in - dip out, hover, hand waft, or nostril to nostril
  3. Sip and enjoy
    Take a 1st sip, let the flavours release, coat your tongue, give your palate a chance to adjust, then enjoy the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, try the ‘Kentucky Chew’…
  4. What a Finish!
    Flavours can evolve even after the spirit has been swallowed.
  5. (Optional) Add Water and Repeat
    Try a few drops of water to see if unlocks aromas and flavours, more so for cask-strength whiskeys

Use this diagram as a way to develop your whiskey tasting experiences:

Whiskey Tasting Notes - The Pot Still


How to Drink Whiskey

This is my advice on how to drink whiskey, but at the end of the day, drink whiskey whatever way you want, as long as you enjoy it. Don't let people tell you how to drink it one way or another, it's your hard earned cash to do what you like with it! But, try these steps if you want some advice:

  1. Neat
    Drink the whiskey how it was filled into the bottle, straight into a glass, as we discussed above the different glassware, at room temperature.
  2. Whiskey Stones
    Like your whiskey cold but not diluted? Get yourself a set of whiskey stones, pop them in the freezer and put them in your drink without diluting via ice. Or, heat the stones up in the oven and use in a hot drink.
  3. On the Rocks - (with Ice)
    Freezing temperatures can have an affect on whiskey. if you have a whiskey that is “non-chill filtered” then there is the potential for your whiskey to get a little cloudy the colder you get it. It's perfectly fine to drink though. The colder it is, it can sometimes be harder to smell and taste.
  4. 1-3 Drops of Water
    Adding 1-3 drops of water to a whiskey can help to open up some flavours and make cask strength whiskeys easier to drink. Try it neat first and compare with the addition to a few drops of water.
  5. Add your preferred mixer
    Not feeling like straight whiskey, add your favourite mixer to it! The usual suspects are Cola, Ginger Ale, Soda Water, etc. A more refreshing drink on hot summer days.
  6. Cocktails
    Any good bartender will be able to recommend a good cocktail based on your taste profiles, style of drink, flavours, etc. I love a decent Whiskey Sour with egg white, and Brickyard Gastro Pub with their Meringue topping!!! Also, recommend Old Fashioned or The Sazerac.
  7. Hot Drinks
    Why not Irish-up your Hot Chocolate with a shot of Irish Whiskey or Bourbon? My aunty Mairead is legendary for her Irish Coffees at Christmas, or try a hot whiskey to help with decongestion, cold and flu*. (*Not medical advice)

    Want to learn more about How You Should Drink Whiskey? Why not sign up for one of our Virtual Whiskey Tastings?

Tags: Whiskey Tasting

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