Scotch: Neat or On the Rocks?

When ordering scotch, it’s often important to indicate how you’d like it. There are really only two choices in the scotch world:

  • Neat means you want the scotch without anything else.
  • On the Rocks means you want the scotch served with ice.

If you use any other terms, you’ll just confuse the bartender. If you forget which is which, just explain it and the bartender will gladly serve it the way you like it. 🙂

If you’re at home and want it neat but a little chilled, consider whisky stones. A little chill without any of the pesky water.

What’s the best glass?
If you’re enjoying your Scotch neat, I recommend one that has a tulip bulb shape – where it tapers near the top to direct the scents to your nose. You have the classic Glencairn glasses, made and marketed as “the” scotch drinking glass. I personally prefer Glencairn glasses or Reidel’s Vinum Single Malt Whiskey glasses (though they are much pricier) but either will be fine.

You won’t often see these glasses at bars, given how relatively expensive they are, but if you enjoy scotch at home with any regularity then they are worth the investment!

As for enjoying it on the rocks, any heavier Old Fashioned glass will do. The tulip bulb shape of the Glencairn, and it’s generally much smaller size, makes it hard to put ice in. An Old Fashioned glass, which you can also use to make cocktails, is better with the ice.

Ultimately, it’s about what’s in the glass and not the glass itself… I’ve had delicious scotch in a red Solo cup before. 🙂

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t drink Macallan 12, or any decent single malt scotch, on the rocks. Those distilleries work hard to make a good product and I want to enjoy their masterpieces, I don’t need frozen tap water messing up the balance!

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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19 Responses to Scotch: Neat or On the Rocks?

  1. Modder says:

    In places that really know their scotch, they will also offer you little water on the side of your neat drink, so you can dilute it a wee bit (brings out some of the hidden aromatics). A good scotch place would never insult you by offering such a fine beverage on the rocks. You can ask, but they will give you a well deserved eyebrow. 🙂

    My mantra is that if it tastes so horrible that you need to super cool and massively dilute it to handle it – don’t drink it! If you are too weak to handle the drink straight up – don’t drink it!

    • Glen Morangie says:

      While staring into the night sky searching for UFOs, idiots dreamed up rules for drinking Scotch whisky, one being that it cannot be mixed with anything. How absurd! Drink to satisfy your own palate. Mix whisky with whatever pleases. If some idiot gives you an eyebrow, nothing says “I disagree” like an eyebrow, the finger and no tip. (Finger optional.) Enjoy your Scotch!

    • Henry Prince says:

      Essentially he is saying “Don’t be a bitch”

    • Charles says:

      Cooling a complex scotch enhances some flavor and aroma notes similarly to a bit of water, but they never enhance the same notes. As Glen Morangie noted, take your scotch as you please. But don’t waste your time telling someone else how to take theirs… unless they ask.

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  3. Yorkshire Gentleman says:


    That mantra only works with alcohols meant to be drank by themselves. Calvados, for example, is a brandy distilled almost too strong to drink by itself. However, a good friend of mine loves the drink Jack Rose, made with Calvados brandy. Schnapps oftentimes has too great a concentration of alcohol to be served to responsible drinkers, unless the drink is first mixed.

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  9. Jim says:

    As we say up here in Maine “try em side by each” personal taiste is just that; its personal. But pour two glasses one on the rocks with one neat and then enjoy both. Get over that James Bond thing in the back of your head.

  10. john jacob jinkel hymer smith says:

    Of course we all forget the cask strength behemoths some of us appreciate. A tiny drop or two of water significantly changes the experience….no question.
    Lagavulin. Neat. Double.

  11. john jacob jinkel hymer smith says:

    What point is there to burn your palate?

  12. Stew Pidasso says:

    Terminology question. Is the term two fingers still used? Thanks

  13. MariaE Francovig says:

    “…. Oh, and for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t drink Macallan 12, or any decent single malt scotch, on the rocks. Those distilleries work hard to make a good product and I want to enjoy their masterpieces, I don’t need frozen tap water messing up the balance! …”
    I sooooo agree with you!!! thank you.

  14. Jennie says:

    What does the term “up” mean???

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