The proper way to drink fine whiskey: an anorak reality checkAugust 31st, 2012
Naturally, I’m going to savor this rare treat it in a snifter (or nosing glass like Glencairn), at room temperature, with the careful addition of quality water, right?
Wrong! I just poured it into a plain small rocks glass and added ice to it, which you see pictured.
What? The Publisher & Editor of Whisky Advocate, a magazine devoted to enjoying fine whiskey and educating the consumer, drinking his treasured bourbon on the rocks? In a rocks glass??
Yes! If you’re one of those people who think that the only way to drink good whiskey is neat (or with a little water), in a nosing glass, then it’s time for you to take that extended pinky of your drinking hand and tuck it back in with the rest of your fingers.
There’s a time and place for everything, and there’s more than one way to drink fine whiskey. Sure, when I am reviewing whiskey for the magazine, I’m nosing and tasting in a proper nosing glass, at room temperature, adding water and repeating the process. But, there are other ways to enjoy the good stuff, and I’ll give you some examples.
Whiskey on the rocks is okay sometimes
When I’m drinking whiskey at the beach, like this weekend, I will be adding ice to my whiskey. Why? We like leaving the windows open to let the sea breeze in, and the room temperature of the house is warmer than my house back in Pennsylvania. I add an ice cube to bring the temperature back down to where I like to drink it.
Knowing this, what I typically do is bring barrel proof (or higher-proof) whiskeys with me when I go there. Adding an ice cube kills two birds with one stone: it lowers both the temperature of the whiskey and the proof at the same time. Yes, in this instance, adding ice enhances my whiskey enjoyment and the whiskey tastes better than if I didn’t add any ice.
Good whiskey makes for better cocktails
I learned this first from my fiddling around with tequila and gin cocktails. The better the spirit–and ingredients–the better the cocktail. For example, I use 100% blue agave blanco tequila (preferably with fresh lime juice and Gran Marnier liqueur) when making my margaritas, and it kicks ass. The same goes for whiskey cocktails. You want an unforgettable Manhattan? Make it with good bourbon, good vermouth, and quality bitters!
Different moods, different glasses
I keep a variety of glassware on hand. Which one I use depends on my mood and situation. There is no one perfect whisky glass (contrary to what glassware producers will lead you to believe). If I’m evaluating a whiskey, then I will use a formal nosing glass. But if my whiskey is just part of an enjoyable experience, not the entire experience, and my attention is focused on other things–the company I’m with, the view in front of me, what I might also be eating at the time, or whether I’m smoking a cigar–then I might be more inclined to not be so damned picky about it.
In fact, one of my most memorable whiskey-drinking experiences didn’t involve a glass at all! It was just the three off us, alone on a frozen lake in Onterio in February, ice fishing, passing around a bottle of good whiskey and telling stories while we drowned our bait and entertained ourselves, because the fish weren’t biting.
It’s okay to have a fine whiskey with a quality cigar
Hey, if you don’t like cigars, fine. And if you don’t want me to smoke a cigar anywhere near you, fair enough. I won’t. But, don’t tell me that enjoying a cigar with a fine whiskey is a waste of good whiskey. It’s not.
True, I won’t be able to detect all the subtle nuances on the nose and palate of a whiskey like I would if I weren’t smoking a cigar. But that loss is made up by the contribution of new aromas and flavors a cigar brings to the table, along with the fun and enjoyment of marrying the flavors between the two. Kicking back with a fine cigar and quality whiskey (say a bourbon or sherried single malt scotch) can be a very rewarding experience.
The point I’m trying to make here is this: one thing that makes whiskey so treasured is its versatility. Try to keep an open mind when it comes to enjoying it. Only then, Grasshopper, will you become a true anorak.