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How to drink whisky without the burn

We think whisky tastes great and can be appreciated all on its own. However, we know that whisky burn can sometimes interfere with how much you enjoy your tipple. Many seasoned whisky drinkers love the sensation and class it as part of the whisky-drinking experience, but it can certainly take time to get used to the way whisky makes your mouth feel.

In this guide, we share some easy-to-execute tips and tricks on how to drink whisky without the burn.

What is whisky burn?

Even if you’ve never tried whisky before, you might have an idea of what we mean when we talk about whisky burn. It’s a harsh, tingling sensation that you can get in your mouth or throat when drinking whisky. The same feeling can occur when drinking other spirits too. It’s not necessarily unpleasant but isn’t always welcome either.

There’s actually some interesting science behind whisky burn. There are cellular pain receptors that are present in the mouth and other oral tissues. When these come into contact with high-proof alcohol, they interpret it in the same way they would a sharp spike in temperature, such as if you were to bite into a slice of pizza fresh out of the oven. 

So, when you take a sip of whisky, your brain can be tricked into thinking the liquid you are swallowing is hot, even when it isn’t. Whisky burn is essentially your body trying to protect you which is a good thing. However, it can put a dampener on your dram, and nobody wants that.

How to drink whisky without the burn

Try mixers and cocktails

When it comes to how to drink scotch for beginners, cocktails and mixers are often recommended as they allow novices to acclimatise themselves to the flavours of whisky, which can be rather rambunctious when new to the spirit. But they can also be a great way to mellow out whisky burn, allowing you to fully appreciate the nuances of flavour.

This doesn’t mean that you have to whip up something with a cupboard load of ingredients; a simple but sophisticated Godfather cocktail or scotch and soda will do the trick. 

Of course, if you want something more flamboyant, then we’re all for it. A pineapple whisky smash, for instance, uses The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve combined with pineapple juice, simple syrup, lime wedges and mint. The tropical flavours are the star of the show and as pineapple has a strong taste on its own, it can calm whisky burn if it occurs.

Infuse your whisky

Knowing how to infuse whisky with your favourite flavours can help take that burning edge off your next drink while also adding an exciting new dimension. There are several reasons that infused whisky helps with whisky burn:

  • Flavour masking: The addition of other flavours, such as fruit, spices, herbs, or botanicals, can help mask the strong ethanol burn of the whisky. These added flavours can create a more complex and balanced profile, making the alcohol less pronounced.
  • Sweetness: Many infused whiskies include sweetening agents like sugar or honey. This sweetness can counterbalance the bitterness and heat of the alcohol, making the whisky feel smoother and less harsh.
  • Aromatic compounds: Infusing whisky with botanicals and spices can introduce aromatic compounds that interact with the alcohol molecules, altering the overall flavour and aroma profile. This can lead to a more pleasant drinking experience and reduce the burn.
  • Dilution: Some whisky infusions dilute the original whisky, thus reducing the alcohol content, which inherently reduces the alcohol burn and makes the spirit less intense and more approachable.

Add a few drops of water

Any good whisky-tasting guide will explain what the addition of water can do to whisky. It’s a great option if you want to be able to detect all the flavours within a whisky and don’t want to add extras to the mix. 

Water dilutes the whisky slightly, which reduces the alcohol content and lessens the burn. It can also help release the whisky’s aroma, making it more complex to the nose. You don’t need a lot of water; a few drops or a small splash will work.

Cool it down

Some whisky drinkers will champion that neat is best while others love their whisky on ice. But much like water, adding ice to whisky can help reduce the whisky burn by lowering the temperature of the whisky and diluting it. 

If you don’t want to dilute your whisky but do want to see if lowering its temperature helps with whisky burn, you could always try using whisky stones or chilling your glass before you pour instead.

Include something sweet

Introducing sweetness into your whisky can make it less bitter and reduce whisky burn. There are plenty of sugary options you can add to your whisky, so it’s really just about your preferences or what you have to hand. However, some great ones to try include:

  • Simple syrup: Rounds out sharp flavours and sensations. For instance, in a Whisky Smash, simple syrup offers contrast to the lemon juice.
  • Honey: Scotch and honey are a great combination as they both have intricate profiles
  • Sugar: A kitchen staple which is easy to incorporate into classic drinks like an Old Fashioned .
  • Maple syrup: Adds sweetness and helps reimagine classic cocktails. Try our Maple New York Sour if you don’t believe us!
  • Elderflower cordial: Can make whisky more delicate and add fresh, floral nuances like in our Elderflower Collins.

Agave: It’s sweeter than sugar meaning you don’t have to use as much to combat whisky burn. Try it in our watermelon whisky cocktail.

Experiment with expressions

There are so many whisky types around the world so if you’ve tried one and don’t like the sensation it creates in your mouth, try a different variety instead. Even if you like a certain distillery, they are likely to have different expressions, with some being smoother than others. 

For example, our 18-year-old scotch is rich with a finish of raisins and spice. In comparison, The Glenlivet Founders Reserve is known for being a smooth scotch whisky. It’s creamy and sweet, with notes of zesty fruits.

Want to learn more about whisky and how to enjoy it? Check out our comprehensive whisky guide or read our articles on cooking with whisky and the best whisky drinks to order at a bar. Or why not jump straight to it and mix some delicious whisky cocktails.