Your Beginner's Guide to Drinking Whiskey Like a Boss
8 min read
You've tried whiskey before. You probably liked it or at least pretended to like it. But do you know how to drink whiskey? Really, bro?
Knowing how to drink whiskey properly - not to mention hold your liquor - is an essential requirement for masculinity in cultures across the world, as well as many high-end work settings. Want to be accepted as one of the guys, or impress the CEO at a work party? You've got to be whiskey-wise.
Luckily for you, we've crafted this guide for beginners to dive into the wide world of whiskey. Seasoned whiskey drinkers may pick up some new insights, too. Learning your whiskeys (and whiskies) is intoxicatingly fun, and you will find endless depths to explore.
Know the Rules - How to Drink Whiskey Properly
In this section, we're going to cover what beginners need to know about whiskey, the best ways to drink whiskey, and how to sip whiskey like a pro.
Even if you aren't going to become a whiskey enthusiast, knowing the rules enables you to drink whiskey properly in social settings without embarrassing yourself or bringing shame upon your crew.
Whiskey Drinking Etiquette
If you don't learn anything else about whiskey, you at least need to know proper whiskey etiquette.
These are the most important things you need to remember to avoid offending a host or connoisseur offering you whiskey in a social or business setting:
Never spit or sputter.
Try not to make a face.
It's not "gross," it's "challenging."
Sip it neat, don't shoot it.
If you spit out the whiskey or sputter, to be blunt, you will look like an ass, and no one will offer you whiskey ever again. Fine whiskey is expensive, and no one is going to enjoy watching you spit your 50-year-old cask whiskey back into a glass. We're not dealing with a few drops of water here - this is liquid gold.
Just talking about it brings out our inner curmudgeon! Spitting and sputtering also mean you aren't sipping it correctly, which we'll get to in the next section.
Use Your Poker Face If You Need To
Making a face is not as severe a faux pas as spitting out the whiskey, but it's avoidable, so avoid it. If you're a whiskey virgin, you're probably going to twitch the first time you sip a strong spirit, but have some composure about it. Sharply inhaling air and raising your eyebrows looks a lot better than coughing and puckering up.
As you navigate your way towards an enjoyable relationship with whiskey, you're going to have some challenging experiences, but don't blame the whiskey. If you think it's gross, you haven't learned how to appreciate it.
Keep Your Negative Comments Close To Your Chest
It's okay to be honest and say a whiskey pour is "challenging." That way you'll open up some interesting discussion about what flavor notes your drinking buddies perceive, and how their relationship to the spirit has evolved. Just don't say anything offensive that would impugn the generosity of your host.
Sip Whiskey, Don’t Shoot
Shooting fine whiskey is a sin. Some people may do it, but that doesn't make it right. For one thing, a lot of premium whiskeys are unfriendly to shoot - your palate will burn - and for another, you're going to detect zero flavor notes. Sip neat, don't shoot.
How To Sip Whiskey Properly: Best Techniques
Now that you know how to avoid offending whiskey connoisseurs, it's time to study the fine art of whiskey appreciation.
Unlike single-malt scotch or a distillery tasting tour, learning to drink whiskey properly costs you nothing, and it unlocks a lifetime of amazing gustatory experiences.
A lot of people who say they enjoy high-end whiskey may skip one or more of these suggestions. It's not your place to correct them or teach them, but we assure you that your experience will be more profound than someone who doesn't nose their pour, no matter how informed they sound.
For proper appreciation, remember these whiskey drinking habits as you imbibe:
Engage all your senses
Understand, describe, discuss
Know thy vessel
Drinking is a sensory experience from start to finish: someone uncorks or unscrews the bottle (pop!), you hear it going into the glass (plip-plip-plop-plop-plop), then you pick up the glass and hold it in your hand.
Depending on the design of the glass, your body heat may slightly increase the temperature of the whiskey as you progress through the pour, increasing the aroma.
The light refracts through the glass and makes the whiskey glow. When you finish, the empty glass clinks as you set it down.
The First Step: Sniffing Whiskey
Your olfactory sense - the sense of smell - is vital to the proper appreciation of whiskey. Smelling your glass of whiskey is called "nosing" it.
Before you take your first sip, place your nose one to two inches from the tumbler and inhale deeply. Breathe out and inhale a once or twice more sharply, then take a moment to understand what you are smelling before you have a small sip.
Nosing the drink awakens your sense of taste and prepares your body and mind to appreciate the taste of the whiskey. Continue to nose the glass periodically as you work your way through the drink, noting any changes in scent and flavor.
If you're enjoying a whiskey with friends or coworkers, you can enhance your appreciation by describing and discussing the tasting notes you've uncovered. There are not necessarily any correct answers, but you can learn a lot by sharing and paying attention to others' observations.
What You’re Pouring & Drinking Your Whiskey From Matters
Know thy vessel: to take your drinking experience to the next sensory and aesthetic level, you can upgrade to a whiskey decanter and a set of whiskey glasses. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even get these items personalized, like in the two examples above.
A crystal clear decanter and glasses allow you to appreciate the presentation of the round better than a green bottle or cloudy shot glasses.
Keep it Proper: More Whiskey Drinking Tips
These answers to your whiskey questions will help you get more enjoyment out of your whiskey and impress your drinking companions.
What is a Whiskey Serving Size?
Technically 1.5 ounces or 44.36 milliliters is the correct answer. But if you order at a bar, you're likely to get 1.75 to 2 ounces in your pour, especially if the bartender likes you.
If you're serving or drinking whiskey in a non-commercial setting, you can use a jigger (which are typically 1.5 or 1.75 oz), or you can measure in "fingers." One finger, a pour to the level of a finger wrapped around the bottom of the glass, is about 1.5 ounces. Two fingers will be a little more than double that. Whiskey aficionados typically request between one and three fingers.
What Food & Drink Do You to Drink Whiskey With?
If you want to get fancy, whiskey pairs well with many different foods. Here's a quick rundown of our favorite pairings:
Spicy bourbons with blue cheese
Full-bodied small-batch bourbons with grilled steak
Bourbon or rye with apple pie
Rye with smoked salmon
Lowlands Scotch like Glenkinchie with sushi and other Japanese foods
Smokey Islay Scotch with aged cheddar
Drinking Whiskey 101: A Breakdown for Beginners
Once you understand how to appreciate whiskey, you can explore the universe of whiskey for yourself. We're going to give you some helpful hints on what's what, and where to begin enjoying each category of whiskey from around the world.
Whiskey or Whisky?
Are you confused about the difference between whiskeys and whiskies? There's no wrong answer, but here's a quick cheat. If the source country has an "e" in the name (Ireland, America), use Whiskey, if there's no "e", (Scotland, Canada, Japan), use Whisky.
If you can't keep them straight, don't worry - unless you're writing about whiskey or whisky, you don't need to remember the difference to hold a conversation. When you order a drink, be sure to specify what type of whiskey you want.
Common Whiskeys You’ll Come Across As A Beginner
If you're American, bourbon is probably the most familiar whiskey to you, because it's the most common. Bourbon is sweeter and more accessible because its primary distillation component is corn, and it's a great place to begin your exploration.
Wild Turkey 101 is our pick for a mass-produced Kentucky bourbon, and Buffalo Trace is a great entry-level small-batch bourbon.
Rye used to be the most common American whiskey, but most rye distilleries were wiped out during prohibition. As the name suggests, rye is the main component of rye whiskey. Rye has been making a comeback for the last decade.
It's more challenging than bourbon and less sweet, but delicious and an excellent choice for making high-end cocktails. Try Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond rye.
Canadian whiskeys are traditionally lighter and smoother than bourbon. Crown Royal Reserve isn't hard to find, and it's an excellent introduction to Canadian whiskeys.
Scotch is a classic spirit associated with class, wealth, and luxury (particularly single-malt Scotch). Made from malted barley, a lot of Scotches are like bourbon with more of a bite, while some are out-of-this-world smoky and peaty. One of the requirements of Scotch whisky is that it be made in Scotland - it's literally Scottish.
Our blended scotch pick is Johnny Walker Black. Our favorite Speyside is the Macallan, our favorite Lowlands is Glenkinchie, and the quintessential Islay Scotch is Laphroiag.
Irish whiskey, made in Ireland, is another common variety of whiskey. Jameson is bold with a full-body, while Bushmills is lighter and smoother.
So, Which Is The Best Whiskey on the Rocks?
Most people drink fine whiskeys neat, but some whiskeys are good on the rocks. People commonly drink bourbon, Irish whiskey, and Canadian whiskey on the rocks.
You'll find fewer people who drink straight rye whiskey on ice. Scotch on the rocks is a popular choice, but stick to blended Scotch on ice rather than single-malt.
Whiskey Cocktails You Can Use As Training Wheels
Not everyone is ready to get into drinking whiskey straight - like we said before, it's an acquired taste for some. One way to acquire that taste is to try out some whiskey cocktails before you start enjoying it all by its lonesome.
Here are some of the usual suspects:
Old Fashioned- Made with bourbon and muddled sugar and bitters. Usually garnished with an orange peel and served with a large ice cube. This is a true classic, and a great introduction to drinking whiskey.
Manhattan- Along with the Old Fashioned, this is another classic. Made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, it's typically garnished with a maraschino cherry. It's usually made with rye whiskey, but Canadian, Bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys can be used in a pinch.
Whiskey Sour - Definitely your pick if you're struggling to drink the hard stuff. Whiskey Sours are made with Bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup and usually garnished with an orange wheel and a cherry.
Highball - This too would make whiskey purists upset. A highball is very simple: whiskey and a soft drink. Usually whiskey drinkers go for ginger ale or coke, though it really depends on your taste buds.
Whiskey and Water - Try your favorite type of water with a splash of water or half a glass. This is sacrilege to some, but it'll get you used to the taste more quickly than drinking the usual whiskey cocktails.
Now You’re Ready To Drink Whiskey Properly
Now that you’ve got the low-down on everything whiskey, you’ll be able to impress all of your buddies next time you take on the town or crack open a bottle of your finest. Here’s to you!
PS: Want to get your hands on some top quality, personalized whiskey paraphernalia?