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How to drink whisky

Whisky is an incredibly versatile spirit. It’s produced the world over from the whisky regions of Scotland to Japan and the USA. It can also differ in flavour, proof, age, and blend. With so much variation, it makes sense that there’s no one right way to drink whisky.

The simplest way to start drinking whisky is neat, which will help you to identify what you like and dislike. Adding a few drops of water or cubes of ice ‘on the rocks’ style is also popular. As is using whisky as the base for cocktails.

In this guide we explore some of the key considerations when it comes to how to drink whisky, from the choice of glass to popular mixers. Armed with all these tips, we’re sure you’ll be confident in crafting your own signature whisky drink, served just the way you like it.

Beginning your whisky journey

Well, until you start experimenting, you won’t know! If you’re new to whisky, a good place to start is simply exploring the types of whisky available and learning about their flavour profiles. The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve smooth scotch whisky is a great option for beginners who want to accustom their palate. It has delicate yet complex flavours and overall, is creamy and sweet.

Once you’ve tried different expressions on their own, you can then sample some popular whisky cocktails such as the Whisky Sour or The Godfather. After that, you can continually broaden your horizons by trying other blends, ordering specialty cocktails, and even crafting drinks at home. Before long, you might find you’ve become a fully-fledged whisky enthusiast.

Discover the best whisky for beginners

Embrace the taste experience

To fully appreciate every aspect of a whisky, you might want to try your hand at whisky tasting. This involves more than simply drinking it; it’s an experience that utilises all the senses. A whisky tasting starts with looking at the whisky and admiring its hue. 

Then you want to smell the whisky. You’ll want to sniff more than once to fully open the whisky’s bouquet. It’s only after this that you should get to tasting. There are four areas of whisky taste, including the finish, which lingers in the mouth long after the final sip.

Whisky tasting guide

Choosing the right glass

Many factors influence how whisky tastes, including the glass it’s served in. The best glasses to drink whisky depend on how you are serving it. 

If you’re opting for scotch served neat over ice, then it has to be a classic rocks glass. But if you’re looking to start a whisky club with your friends and want to focus on the full tasting experience, then snifter glasses will be ideal. If cocktails are more your thing, a highball glass is great for fizzy concoctions whereas a wide-rim vessel, such as a martini or coupe glass is perfect for cocktails which combine spirits.

The best types of whisky glasses

On the rocks or not?

When it comes to how to drink whisky, whether to incorporate ice is up for debate and largely comes down to personal preference. Ice can make the aromas of whisky more prominent while reducing the harshness of the mouthfeel. However, too much ice can result in a diluted drink which ultimately dampens the flavours. If you want to experience the full complexity of flavour, then serving your whisky at 15°C – 18°C is recommended but you can always add in a few drops of room temperature water to make it a little more mellow.

Drinking whisky on ice

Mix things up

Whisky offers a complex variety of flavours all on its own, from peaty undertones to light floral notes and smooth caramel to sumptuous, dried fruits. However, combining your whisky with other ingredients can provide an exciting new chapter in how to drink whisky. The options are pretty much endless, but some of the most popular mixers include soda, iced tea and lemon.

Check out our whisky cocktail recipes

Store between pours

Knowing how to store whisky is important if you want to ensure that it stays in tip-top condition between drinks. Keep your whisky bottles upright and in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight. Once you’ve opened a bottle be sure to seal it properly. If it was a corked bottle, use a bottle cap or transfer it to a decanter with a tight seal. Once you get down to the last measures of a bottle, move them to a smaller vessel as it reduces the likelihood of your whisky oxidising.

Learn how to store whisky

Make a meal of it

Whisky can be enjoyed all on its own but it’s also great with friends and with food. Once you’ve figured out how to drink whisky in a way that suits your style, why not get creative again by trying some whisky pairings? You can host a whisky pairing dinner and serve up well-known winning duos such as whisky and cheese or try the unexpected pairing of whisky and pickles or oysters.

Learn how to cook with whisky

For more advice and inspiration on becoming a whisky drinker, check out our articles on The Glenlivet rare whiskies and whisky types around the world. Also, take a look at our extensive library of whisky cocktails including classics like the Old Fashioned and exciting recipes for drinks such as Mango Smash and Apple Spritz.