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How to Drink Whiskey Like a Gentleman

Whiskey has long been considered a gentleman’s drink, but how well versed are you when it comes to this distilled delicacy? If you’re unsure what distinguishes an aged scotch from a sweet bourbon, then it’s high time you learned. 

While you won’t become a whiskey expert overnight, learning more about the history of whiskey and how it’s made will certainly help. Keep reading our guide and check out the infographic below for some quick pointers on how you can finally learn how to drink (and enjoy) whiskey like a true gentleman.

But before we go any further, will you take that neat or on the rocks? 

The “Explain It Like I’m Five” Whiskey Runthrough

In case you didn’t know, here’s the skinny: whiskey is a spirit made from grains that are first fermented and then distilled. Whiskey is traditionally made with corn, rye, barley or wheat, and must be at least 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) before it can be bottled. Most whiskies are aged in wooden barrels, though when and for how long varies depending on the distillery and region. 

For some historical context, the distillation process dates back to ancient Mesopotamia and spread to Europe, Scotland, and Ireland by way of travelling monks. The oldest licensed distillery in the world, Old Bushmill’s Distillery in Northern Ireland, was founded in 1608. 

Lastly, is it “whiskey” or “whisky”? Both are correct, but the main difference is geographic: “Whiskey” generally refers to spirits distilled in America and Ireland, while “whisky” refers to spirits made in Canada, Japan, Scotland, or anywhere else. 

A Quick Tour of the World of Whiskey

For the sake of simplicity, we’ve broken whiskies down into five types based on region.  

1. Scotch whisky 

Single Malt Whisky: The term “single malt whiskey” is often associated with single malt Scotch. “Malt whisky” refers to whisky made from malted barley. What makes it “single” is the fact that it is distilled in one location. Single malt Scotch, then, is single malt whisky distilled in Scotland using a pot still distillation process. 

Aging requirements: Scotch whisky must be aged in an oak barrel for at least three years and one day, but many are aged much longer.  

2. Irish whiskey 

Unmalted barley: Irish whiskey uses unmalted barley and usually incorporates other grains as well. It is also distilled three times, which gives it a smoother taste, unlike Scotch, which is distilled twice.  

Single Pot Still: This type of Irish whiskey consists of both malted and unmalted barley.  

Aging requirements: Irish whiskey must be aged at least three years in a wooden barrel. 

3. American whiskey

Bourbon: Must contain 51 percent corn and 49 percent malted barley, rye or wheat.

Rye:  Must contain 51 percent rye and 49 percent malted barley, rye or wheat. 

Tennessee whiskey: Essentially the same as bourbon whiskey, but filtered through charcoal at the end of the distillation process. It must also be distilled in Tennessee.  

Aging requirements: Both bourbon, rye, and Tennessee whiskey must be aged a minimum of three years in new, charred oak casks.  

4. Canadian whisky

Rye whisky: Corn is the majority grain used in Canadian whisky, but people still refer to it as “rye.” 

Aging requirements: Canadian whisky must be distilled in Canada and aged in wooden barrels — old new, charred, or uncharred — for at least  three years. 

5. Japanese whisky 

Single malt or blended: Japan took their whisky cues from the Scottish and started distilling and selling both single-malt and blended whisky in the 1920s. 

Multiple varieties under one roof: Scottish distilleries generally make one type of whisky, hence the need to use multiple distilleries to produce a blended whisky. Japanese distilleries will combine several stills in one distillery, allowing them to create different varieties in a single location. 

Aging requirements: There are no strict aging laws on Japanese whisky. 

How to Drink Whiskey Like a Sir

Now that you have a better understanding of whiskey and the distillation process, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff: how to drink it. And no, you don’t swill it back like an ice-cold draft beer. 

There’s a few ways you can drink whiskey, and we’ve highlighted them below: 

Neat

How you should enjoy your whiskey is still a contentious point with the connoisseurs out there, but one thing is certain: when trying a new whiskey, you should first try it “neat.” If you’re unaware of this term, it just means taking your whiskey without ice or mixers and at room temperature. This allows you to experience the beverage’s flavor profiles in their purest form.

With water

It’s not uncommon to add a bit of distilled water to your whiskey. To do it correctly, use a straw to collect a splash of water and drop it in. Adding water dilutes the alcohol content and makes the initial swig more palatable so you can taste more flavors. 

On the rocks 

“On the rocks” just means adding ice. If you want to offend a whiskey snob, this is how you do it. If you’re going to commit the atrocity, though, you should at least do it with style. Rather than using crushed ice or multiple ice cubes, throw in an ice ball or a single 1.5- to 2-inch ice cube instead. 

Whiskey cocktails 

Whiskey cocktails mask the flavor of your whiskey, but they’re a great option if you want to try something different. Some of the most iconic whiskey-based cocktails out there include an Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Boulevardier, and a Whiskey Sour. These concoctions blend ingredients that complement the flavor profiles of the whiskey, making them great to sip on in any setting. 

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The art of drinking and enjoying whiskey is not something you should rush. Take your time with it and learn what you like and why. Eventually, your palate will mature and you’ll be on your way to becoming a whiskey connoisseur!