The late, great Anthony Bourdain used to tell a story. He had taken a trip to Antarctica where he’d camped at a scientific research station. Come the evening, and the group were enjoying a glass of whiskey. One of the researchers left the camp and came back with a bowl of ice for their drinks, chipped directly from the base of a glacier. The idea that the ice Bourdain was about to put in his drink was thousands of years old just blew him away. We’ve never heard of a more Bourdain-esque story. Purists might be in uproar that he added ice to his drink, but for us, it’s the perfect whiskey tale. It has everything that whiskey drinkers (or whisky drinkers, but now is not the time to get picky) could want: a reverential appreciation for the drink, a sense of wonderment but above all, inherent respect at the best way to drink whiskey. Whether with water, on the rocks, with a mixer or simply neat, the arguments for how best to enjoy the water of life are multifarious.
But quite honestly? If we had the chance to enjoy a whiskey made with 1,000-year-old glacier ice in Antarctica, we’d be drinking a whiskey Slush Puppy too.
On the rocks
If, like Bourdain, you like to add ice to your whiskey, then you are probably not going to find any friends among the whiskey snobs. While drinking whiskey “on the rocks” might sound pretty cool, the ice actually numbs your palate and dull the subtle flavors that whiskey is known for. But like most things, taste is a personal issue, so while it is not wrong to drink cold whiskey, we suggest you choose your poison wisely. Adding large ice cubes or an ice ball is better than a tray of ice cubes, and more suited to younger or blended whiskey. The benefit of whiskey over ice is not only that it is more refreshing, but studies have shown that whiskey responds well to the drops of water released when the ice begins to melt (whiskey stones are a great alternative for those who want their drink cold, but undiluted). Just make sure you finish your drink before it turns into alcoholic squash.
When you add water - even if you only add a splash - you begin to add new layers and textures to your drink. By adding water, the whiskey will begin to release compounds and oils, and the flavours will start to subtly change. Whiskey connoisseurs will even go so far as to say that the type of water will affect the taste even more. Waters with a high pH will make the whiskey taste astringent, while distilled water - neutral pH - will allow the whiskey to reveal itself like a bride on her wedding night.
Drink it Neat?
This is probably the most hotly debated question among whiskey drinkers. Whiskey is full of complex aromas which, according to some, can only really be appreciated when undiluted. Experts suggest drinking high-quality single malts neat, especially if you’re a newcomer to whiskey. A glass of whiskey neat should be sipped slowly - the idea here is to appreciate the vast spectrum of flavours that the drink is known for. It may be poured like a shot, but we definitely don’t want to be drinking it all in one gulp. Choose a flavourful type - we recommend Irish whiskey over Scotch as it has a fruitier, spicier edge, better suited to virgin palates. Allow the whiskey to express itself by letting it rest on your taste buds a little before “chewing” it and swallowing. Congratulations and welcome to the club. You never forget your first time.
Whether you choose to have a Manhattan on Fifth Avenue or a Giro d’Italia on the Spanish Steps, whiskey cocktails are a perfect introduction to the glorious taste of whiskey. Whiskey cocktails might make you think of chilly autumnal nights but we think these babies are all-year bevvies. A whiskey cocktail (as opposed to a Whisky Cocktail) energises and calms in equimeasure, fights off illness and keeps you healthy (sort of). They’re so versatile, think Don Draper drinking an Old Fashioned to famous whisky fan Mila Kunis’ favourite tipple, the Mint Julep. Whether your taste buds are tickled by rye whiskey or bourbon, we guarantee there’s a long drink out there for you. Mix it up, add some Angostura bitters and you’ve got yourself a party.
So, there you go. Whether you enjoy whiskey straight or prefer to add a splash of water, whether you want to add some ice or mix it up, whiskey is the ultimate wonder drink. Party up a storm or just as a nightcap before bed - as with most things, the choice is yours. As long as it’s good quality and you like it, then you’re in good spirits.