Why I Enjoy My Whisky Neat

Credit: fronx

Credit: fronx

When I first started drinking whisky, I’d pour it into a glass with some ice.

(for those who gasped, it wasn’t scotch at least!)

I’d always seen it enjoyed that way in the movies so that’s how I did it.

It wasn’t until later that I realized how much I was missing by putting it in a glass with ice.

You see, not only was the water diluting the spirit but by changing the temperature of the whisky, I was affecting how my taste buds were perceiving them. A study back in 2005 revealed that temperature affects our taste buds.

The science of it might be difficult to follow but basically the colder something is, the less sweet, umami and bitter tasting it will be. Warm it up and any existing flavor will seem magnified, since the cold isn’t affecting our taste buds. That’s why melted ice cream tastes so sweet.

By adding ice, you are reducing how sweet your whisky might actually taste! (in addition to diluting it!)

What if it’s too strong? In the beginning, when you first drink whisky, it’ll be strong. The alcohol vapor will singe your nose hairs, the alcohol will burn your throat, and you’ll consider it an awful experience. It’s a rite of passage, especially since the first whisky you’ll have better be a terrible one. 🙂

In the beginning, drop a little water in it.

Water will lower the percentage of alcohol and quiet the “noise.” It’ll let you taste the more delicate flavors. It’ll “open” up, to use a fancy term.

I don’t ever recommend ice, it’s simply too much.

Eventually, you’ll want your whisky neat and sometimes it just takes a little training to get there.

13 thoughts on “Why I Enjoy My Whisky Neat

  1. I do put ice in my whisky, but not until I have tasted it neat. If I like it just fine straight up that is awesome. If not then a couple very small cubes. I have used water, and usually do so at tastings. I know it is sacrilege to use ice but I like it!

  2. I think this is an unnecessary choice. I enjoy tasting a scotch neat, and I like to follow it with a second taste that has a dribble of water in it. The second taste is quite different. Some of the flavors are opened up by the water, and the flavor profile changes. It does not taste diluted, or better or worse, just different. After tasting it both ways, I feel that I’ve fully explored the scotch. Then I have a choice about how I would like it each time I drink. Try it as an experiment and you’ll be surprised at the different tastes available in your scotch.

  3. I would never add any ice to any scotch, distroys the taste. There are some scotch that need a splash or two of water, like when i get into the full strength CadenHeads, actually improves their taste. This of course varies from person to person. Most of my scotch , i like you , like them straight up. Ive only been tasting scotch for 50 yrs now and never quit learning

  4. I was always told the best way to drink fine scotch is add a very small amount of water. As you mention, it opens up the scotch and enables you to taste all it’s flavor. Is this true?

  5. We’ve discussed this before, but for those who may not have seen it, part of the flavor & aroma we experience, which of course define the whiskey, comes from the oils in the liquid. When you add ice, you coagulate those oils and it “minimizes” those sensations. I’m not intending this to be a “so don’t do it” message (enjoy it the way you like), but there is an actual reason the taste changes.

  6. I know that few will completely appreciate what I have to say in this ongoing argument of how to drink YOUR scotch. I’ve drank scotch every which way including with orange juice. Did any of you know that taking it with OJ is a drink called “Jesperian Way” ? File that away for the next cocktail party chit-chat. If you are one of those rare scotch lovers who can have one drink a night, or one drink a week, and wish to make oral love to that drink for an hour or so, then drink it neat by all means. But, if you are an old lush like me (or just a potential lush), realistically, you better do a little internet “research” in what can go wrong pouring 40-50% abv down the mucous membrane of your gullet over a period of time. It can be extremely ugly and extremely painful (vision Roger Ebert). One other thing, not everyone here or in real life, can afford a $50-$100 dram for their regular pleasure. Some of us (even here on Jim’s sophisticated and helpful blog) drink $20 stuff…and actually enjoy it on it’s own limiting level (HORRORS!). Love your site, Jim. Just want to emphasize that there is NOT just one way to enjoy scotch, and if you are the one picking up the tab, you have every right to drink your poison the way you want to drink it. Cheers always ~ Bob 🙂

  7. My three Scott brothers in-law will only drink Scotch with a touch of water. Never neat, never ice. Need I say more.

  8. having a open mind to drinking (your poison ),I have one ice cube with scotch,and I have learned that the older the better,not to say aging is best for all scotch,but if you tast it and you like it ,drink it,i have to agree that ice or water will change the flavor,so change it up,see what you like and dislike.

  9. Hi Jim,

    NOTICE. I’m with you! Drop the letter “T” in the word NOTICE, and you have NO ice! I too prefer my Whiskey/Whisky “neat”. A Teaspoon of SPRING water might be ok added to some Whiskey/Whisky.

    Tom Patrick

  10. I’ll listen to Ralfy and Richard Paterson on this one. Try neat, then add a couple drops to get the rest of the flavor

  11. I like my whisky (and whiskey) and scotch neat, and always have since I started drinking it some years ago. (Okay, make that decades ago.) And I think it all stemmed from when I used to go to the restaurant-bar where my father tended the bar when I was in high school and would visit him for the summer. (The drinking age in that state at the time was still 18, so that tells you how long ago that was!) And while I didn’t do any drinking (other than Sprite), I remember one of the regular patrons: an elderly Irish fellow with a thick brogue and always a story to make you laugh so hard tears would run down your face. So, to answer the question of “How would you answer the question of ‘how do you drink your scotch and why?‘”, I think back to that Irish fellow – whom my father knew well yet always asked him if he wanted any water with his whiskey or scotch, whichever he asked for, simply because my father loved to hear this man say it with that brogue: “I’ll take it neat, if ya please. They put enough water in it when they make it.”


  12. When it comes to scotch, its always neat. Have tried adding a drop of water and yes it changes but i prefered it before the water hit. As long as you enjoy it then thats the right way, but I cant see a day where I’ll put ice or even more water in a Single Malt.

    That gross Johnny Walker Red cant have enough things added to it, and Canadian Whisky or most American whiskies will get ice, in the case of Jack it will also get Coke. Flavored whiskey like Jack Fire gets stored in the freezer. Finer Bourbons though again are best neat.

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