Ah, one of the greatest barriers to entry: how to drink whisky? Newbies can get quite intimidated and scared that they’re doing it all wrong. And those who perpetuate the one right way school of whisky drinking just end up reinforcing that whisky drinking is fuddy-duddy and pretentious.

It’s not. And you can drink your whisky any which way you want. Seriously.

Purists will scream silently when they see you adding water to your whisky. Some may even scream out loud at you. Ignore them. Smile and wave, and get on with what you were doing. If you like, you could sweetly mention that the Folks In The Know (i.e. the professionals who make and taste whisky) actually recommend adding water to the spirit. They usually add enough to dilute the alcohol content by about half (to about 20%), though again personal preference will dictate how much you add.

The water fulfils two functions: firstly, it can make the whisky easier to drink (neat whisky is very strong!), and secondly, it does actually “open up” the whisky and release a great deal more flavour and aroma. I personally like to have one or two sips of my whisky neat, and then add some water to taste. Best of both worlds that way!

While adding water is seen as good tasting practice, adding ice, however, is not. Ice supposedly freezes the taste and aroma of the drink, and dulls the experience of drinking it. I’ve never actually experimented with this myself, so I can’t really comment. The only time I’ve put ice with whisky has been when I’ve had it with a mixer.

Gasp! Shock! Horror! A mixer!

Yes, indeed. A mixer. My personal favourite is ginger ale. But the only whisky I’ve ever added it to has been Jamesons. This mixture was recommended to me by a professional taster when I went to an Irish whiskey tasting, and, intrigued, I followed up. At the time, I enjoyed whisk(e)y but was only able to have a few sips at a time, not even enough to finish a full dram, no matter how wee it was. Mixing the whiskey with ginger ale made it more palatable and got my taste buds more used to the spirit. Now, I can happily and easily drink a full dram or even two, but I still enjoy a “Jammies and Ginger” every now and then as an alternative lighter drink.

Jamesons themselves seem to be marketing this combo quite a lot as a way to draw in new blood into the whisk(e)y drinking fraternity – for the most part, Jamesons seems to come with a free bottle of ginger ale attached to it now!

Regardless of how you enjoy your whisky, here are three steps that should be followed (my three S’s of how to drink whisky!):

  1. Smell your whisky before you start drinking it (and indeed throughout). Give it a good ol’ whiff. Taste and smell are very closely related senses, and smell is essential to the enjoyment of good food and drink.
  2. Sip your whisky. Don’t gulp. Swirl each mouthful around your palate to appreciate all the subtleties of flavour contained within this liquid amber gem.
  3. Savour the whisky. Whisky is a good drink to relax with (and only partly because of its high alcohol content!) – it is a drink that must be enjoyed slowly, with time between each sip to appreciate its finish.

Want some more funky fundamentals? Click here to return from How To Drink Whisky to the Whisky Basics page.