Water, Ice, or Neat?

First, let me start off by saying that nobody should ever tell you how to drink your whisky. If you like mixing The Macallan 18 with Gatorade and drinking it from a mason jar, you go right ahead and do it (just don’t make me watch!). There are, however, a few words of wisdom spoken in whisk(e)y circles about the “right” way to do things. Here’s a brief guide for my fellow Noobs out there:

1. No Ice.

Ok, I just told you you can drink whisky however you like… but I can guarantee that if you add ice to your whisky, especially single-malt or anything costing more than $30 a bottle, you will be dulling the flavors that you paid so much to get. If you like the taste of whisky on ice, get some decent (cheap) blends like Johnnie Walker, Famous Grouse, etc, or some inexpensive Irish whiskey (Jameson or Powers, or Bourbon (Malt Advocate likes these two). Take my advice: learn to savor good single-malt scotch neat (“straight up”: no ice).

2. No Mixers.

Again, if you want to get the best out of your expensive bottles of whisky, drink them without mixers like soda water, cola, or fruit juice. There are plenty of fantastic cocktails (even some inventive ones using young peated malts to imbue smokiness in the drink) out there, but you’re better off using blends or inexpensive malts for this as well. The quality improvement in the cocktail from using expensive whisky is just not going to offset the massive increase in price. You won’t be able to taste the fine nuances of a single-malt, and so you’ll end up “wasting” the money you spent on that nice bottle.

3. Water.

Ok here’s the big controversy: Water in your scotch, or not? Nowadays just about everyone agrees that a little (emphasis on ‘little’) water helps a whisky (especially subtle or floral single malts) ‘open up’ in the glass. A chemical reaction occurs between the water and the tightly-wound chains of amino acids in the whisky. They literally unravel, releasing new flavor compounds and esters (volatile compounds that smell like flowers and fruits). How much water? I generally use a straw to pick up some water (you remember playing with fast-food straws as a kid, right?) and drop 4 or 5 drops into my glass. If you try to pour the water from a glass, you will put TOO MUCH in and simply dilute the whisky. It’s instructive to note that many bars in Scotland itself provide small pitchers of local water on the bar counters for patrons to use with their whisky. According to whisky lore, the best water to use is the same natural, pure spring water used in the production of the whisky itself (every distillery has its own natural water source). Unless you live near the distillery (or buy ridiculously-priced local spring waters sold by some distilleries), this is impractical. Your best bet is to use bottled natural spring water, or a mild bottled mineral water (taste it first, it should taste clean and clear and not like chemicals). If your tap water is drinkable and not especially hard or soft, or if you use a filtration pitcher, you can use this water in a pinch too. Lastly, this water should be ROOM TEMPERATURE or just slightly cool. Cold water will do the same injustice to the whisky that ice does, and dull its flavors.

How do I drink my whisky? It depends. If I’m tasting a whisky and writing notes, I always have it neat in a Glencairn glass, nose and taste it that way, and then add 3 or 4 drops of room-temperature water (using a straw) and re-nose and re-taste. If I’m just drinking a single-malt to enjoy it, I’ll add the water only if my first tasting revealed an improvement with water. If I’m drinking a blend or something mild and uncomplicated, I will generally use a rocks glass (tumbler), neat. This is also the way I prefer whisk(e)y in a bar.

I never use ice, and never more than 3 or 4 drops of water. I always cringe when I see Ralfy dunk several teaspoons of water into (some) drams, but to each his own! (And Ralfy certainly knows better than I do…)

My best advice is to experiment: try different glasses, different amounts of water, taste and smell before and after the addition of water. Figure out what method best allows YOU to enjoy your whisky. Whether it’s a cut-crystal Glencairn glass and a carefully-arranged ritual, or a brown paper bag and a bunch of friends, drinking whisky should be about fun and enjoyment. Do whatever maximizes both.

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  • amen to this! i live in nagaoka, japan–in the heart of rice (and therefore sake) country. i basically drink sake every night with dinner. as i related in comments on another of your articles, i recently (yesterday!) bought my first bottle of SMSW (laphroaig QC: i’ve already joined frinds of laphroaig: how cool is their approach?). i could not, alas, find a glencairn glass or anything that seemed especially beneficial to an effective nosing and tasting. i DO, however, own my share of sake cups, one set of which have a nice bulbous bottom and a tulip-ish shape (except not tapered at the top). i tried a couple of different glasses, alternating between two particularly likely candidates: i used water in one and laphroaig in the other, then alternated to see which seemed to offer the better experience. it’s FUN to experiment with things like that, i think: in the end, i found what seemed to work best–and you can be sure that i’ll try again with other variations of glass, water delivery method and amount, etc.

    again, thanks for the helpful words. i think that your blog is pitched at a very comfortable level for beginners like me, informative and entertaining!

    • Thanks Brian. 🙂 Very kind of you to say that.

      I agree that experimenting with one’s own method of enjoying Scotch is a big part of the experience. Some whiskies (notably American bourbons and ryes, and some inexpensive Scotches) just ‘feel’ better to me when consumed neat out of a rocks glass (like the one in my site’s logo). The glencairns are definitely worth it, however, if you can find somewhere to order them… especially for drawing the maximum depth and variety of aroma out of a whisky.

      By the way, I envy your living in Japan. I’m a big fan of sushi – a few pieces of well-marinated saba nigiri – that sounds like a really good meal right now. 🙂

    • Dont shoot me but usually I drink blends. OK Johnny Walker to be exact and I always mix with coke depending on how strong I want my drink. I have had almost all of the different blends, black, Dblack, platinum, and the only one I drink neat is Blue. I found this site because I am researching what brands are single malt and which ones are the best.

    • Wholeheartedly disagree. If you are you are having Scotch on the rocks, have a good malt. Your cheap blend will split into it’s constituent parts and original blend flavour will be lost.

  • In Ralfy’s defense, he often reviews cask strength whiskys. He puts noticeably less (than several teaspoons of water) into lower strength expressions.

  • I must say that if you were discussing gin, then I would mostly agree. Keep the bottle in the freezer and don’t let the gin touch anything but the glass and a jalapeno-stuffed olive. I prefer Hendrick’s.

    But, back to the Scotch stuff. I like your web site – you make this liquid sound much better than the creosote flavors I remember many years ago. Maybe I should grow up a little more (I thought I was doing well to drink my gin, straight!) and give it a “shot”.

    • Hi Steve, I suggest trying a sherried single malt like The Balvenie DoubleWood ($36) or The Macallan 12 year ($40) as a start – even better if you can try it at a bar without spending the full bottle price, in case it doesn’t agree with you. 🙂 You also might like American Ryes, some of which have gin-like botanical and spice flavors. Also keep in mind that gin is basically vodka steeped in herbs and spices, and whisky is basically vodka aged in oak barrels! (Oversimplifying it a bit, but grain-based spirits really are all very similar). As far as the “alcohol strength” taste – I actually prefer a room-temperature whisky to an ice-cold martini… I think the whisky is easier to drink, and you get less of that “spine shiver” reaction to strong alcohol.

      You might also look into barrel-aged gins – I’ve never tried any, but I imagine they would also be tasty straight up.

  • I knew it! Out here in California only a select few know anything about fine single malt whiskeys, and I myself am only a novice. But I prefer to drink single malt neat (or “straight up” as we say in the states), taking small sips and savoring the flavor. Many people around here think I’m crazy for doing that, and we’ll ask “don’t you want to put that on some ice?” or “you know you’re supposed to dilute that if you want to sip it like that”. The aggressive drinkers just want to down the shot like it’s cheap bourbon. I will try the “3 or 4 drops” method, but I might have already done that inadvertantly with water left in the glass after cleaning and partially drying. Anyway, a little bit of vindication from someone who would know, thanks!

  • I had to laugh when I read your comment about Ralfy, because I think the exact same thing! (aside, I still love Ralfy and watch his videos often) To Jay who commented above, I think that adding a bunch of water to cask-strength is even worse; if it was supposed to be diluted, then why not just buy the 80 or 86 proof version? Then, if it’s diluted at the distillery you get their local water rather than whatever water you have on tap.

    Only thing I disagree about is the drops of water thing. I read that everywhere, but it just seems like too much work to me: tasting with water, tasting without, finding out how much to add to each whisky. So for the sake of simplicity I just just say “no” to adding any water, and this makes my drinking experience more simple and enjoyable.

    • My daughter has spoken with the Master distiller of the Glenlivet many times. He recommends a small amount of water in cask strength whiskeys like Nadurra (it turns cloudy after it is added). The bottle of Nadurra that I have is 59.2% alcohol and can be a bit harsh drinking it neat. But to each hia own.

  • Sir/Madam , I stay in india I enjoy my single malt and black lebel specialy with spring water after reading your artcles I realised that I should import whisky water frm the sourse of brands like glendfidish and black label i wish to have a reliable supplier to be able to import for very special exclusive bars and clubs
    I would apriciate if some guidence on supply could be obtained through yor network
    please revert
    Amar KUmar

    • Hello Amar, unfortunately I don’t know any spirits suppliers in Europe or Asia. I do know that single-malt exports to India have been growing rapidly in the last few years, and it should be possible to find multiple importers. You should also take a look at your home country’s own Amrut, which is quite good single-malt in its own right, and is already capable of competing with Scotch: //scotchnoob.com/?p=586.

  • You’re doing yourself a great injustice to never add water to any whisky. Many whiskys(cask strength especially) need it, and most improve with it.
    Cask strength whisky has so many flavors and are often congested straight out of the bottle, they need to be diluted to some degree.
    Even lighter whiskys at 40-46% improve with a few drops of water.
    I almost always add a couple drops to every single malt I drink, not once has it degraded the flavor. In fact, it always improves, mellows down the burn and increases/unleashes the flavors.

    • Daniel, did you read my article before commenting? I very clearly state that I add 3-4 drops of water to most whisky that I drink. In fact, almost all of the tasting notes on this site include my thoughts about the whisky both with and without water.

  • Thanks for the tip. I drink Glenfiddich 18, neat. I’m excited to try a few drops of water after my next sip and taste the difference.

    • Hi Douglas. I suggest trying it at room temperature first. If you chill it (like a Martini), you’d end up dulling a lot of the flavor inherent in the whisky. If you drink a very inexpensive whisky – especially a blend like Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark, etc. – you often DO want to dull the flavor, since they can taste low-quality. If you’re drinking a single-malt (even an inexpensive one like Glenfiddich or Glenlivet), you’re better off drinking it at room temperature. You could also drop in a teaspoon or so of water and see if you like it that way as well.

  • I am very new to whisky, however I have been studying the science of making it for 2 years. I just started drinking it this summer (well, if you do not count my youthful adventures into Crown, Ancient Age, Jack Daniels and so on). I am loving this site. I have yet to try or buy my first single malt.

    I am curious though… while I love your exact recommendation of 4 to 5 drops of water, into how much whisky? What is a serving size appropriate?

    My whisky shelf consists of a local bourbon from here in Iowa (which is a little corn-y for my taste, but its local), and a couple Irish blends (Tullamore Dew and Bushmills Black Bush). I sense a lot of dislike for blends, but I have enjoyed exploring blends all summer.

    I am ready for the big leagues now, and would like advice 🙂

    • Hi Carl! Welcome to the site. I generally suggest The Balvenie DoubleWood (12 year) as a good introduction to single-malt. It’s very well-rounded, hits most of the common scotch notes, and is fairly inexpensive ($36 a bottle when on sale, here in Northern California). It’s also unpeated, since peated malts tend to be an “acquired taste.” If you like Irish whiskey, I can also highly recommend Redbreast 12 year old, which is a bit pricier ($45 ish) but universally well-liked.

      As far as water goes, my usual “pour” is to the widest part of a Glencairn glass (search Google or Amazon, they’re excellent nosing/tasting glasses for whisky), to which I add 4-5 drops of water. This is almost exactly 2 oz. (I just measured it). That’s arguably a bit on the generous side, as many whisky lovers limit themselves to 1 oz or 1.5 oz drams. A “dram” has no exact measure of volume, when used to refer to whisky. Really, the water serves two purposes. One is to “open up” some of the volatile compounds, which alters the aroma and (to some extent) the flavor. For this, you only need a few drops, a swirl or two, and a minute or so in the glass. The other purpose of water is to bring higher-proof (% alcohol) whiskies down to “drinking strength”. This is often used to bring high-proof “cask strength” whiskies (usually more expensive) down to the more-common 43% or 46% that you find on the vast majority of single malt bottles. This is, of course, totally optional and very much open to experimentation. Above all, try a few different amounts of water (and try it without water of course) with your whisky and see what effect it has. This will both educate your senses and also help you determine how you best “like your whisky”. Enjoy!

      • Thanks for the info! I just tonight bought my first bottle of single malt, before reading your recommendation unfortunately. I picked up Laphroaig 10 Year. Wow, the first drink was overwhelming. But the finish was so pleasant I think I will like this one in the long run. But compared to Black Bush its a killer. Maybe a Speyside (sp?) for me??? I know my store carries Balvenie. Maybe I’ll try that. Glenlivet was on sale for holiday packaging, I know its ubiquitous but should I snag it? I keep reading its an “on hand” or daily whisky, but I have my Irish’s for that, eh?

        • Hi Carl,
          Glad you’re sticking with Scotch – Laphroaig is indeed a heavy-hitting “acquired taste”, but actually it was my first bottle too! That, and then an Aberlour abunadh, a cask-strength sherry bomb on the other end of the “big” spectrum. If you like Laphroaig, you’ll probably like anything from Scotland, as most of them are more subtle and more smooth. If you want to try a step up in peat, try Lagavulin 16 or Talisker 10. If you want to go sweeter, try anything from Balvenie, or one of the Glens. Glenlivet isn’t bad, it’s just a little on the bland side, although it’s probably better than Jameson for everyday sipping.

          • I just had my very first taste of Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 44 the other day — in an insulated glass with one of those big ice balls in it. I almost fainted with pleasure! Next time, I will follow y’all’s recommendations and try it in the glencairn glass with the 4-5 drops of water. First time here… What a great website!

  • For many years now I’ve been drinking my single malts after slightly warming them in the cup of my hand. That, too, opens it up. But I always drink the single malt equivalent of Dutch jenever (called corenwyn) out of the freezer, as is recommended. Recently my son read that the same could be done with whiskey. So I tried it. Instead of dulling the flavors I think it presents them more powerfully.

    • Hendrik, an interesting suggestion. It goes totally against the prevailing wisdom regarding single malts, but it reinforces the point I wanted to make in the article: The right way of drinking whisky is the way that gives you the most pleasure. (As long as you’ve already tried drinking it in the suggested way, which you’ve done). I’ll have to try out some frozen single malt myself!

  • Please check out neat science tab on the website http://www.theneatglass.com . This explains exactly why current glass ware has actually spurred the connoisseurs to invent crutches or methods to get the most from their whiskey,scotch,rum,tequila. The science and discovery of a new glass explains the whole thing. Scotch Noob is right. The NEAT glass changes everything. No water, no ice, no stupid stones. Start with the correct glass.

  • Been drinking single malts and blended scotch on and off with ice and water. Decided to try some neat after reading your blog. Boy am I glad that I did. Poured in some Johnnie Walker Gold into a glass and it tastes wonderful.

    • I more than not enjoy Johnnie Walker Red on the rocks, a blended scotch whiskey, with a bite. I do not like it neat, nor with a mixer. I am not sure why, but I do not care for a single malt scotch either neat, rocks, or with “Coke”!

      I’m not cheap, the taste is best for me and I have a couple each night. I enjoy Rolex, BMW, Ray Ban, and my favorite whiskey, ” Johnnie Walker Red “!

  • I’m glad the author mentioned that you can drink however you like, as long as you’ve tried traditional routes first. Absolutely wonderful advice. I love single malts and greedily try all that I come across. The peatier the better for me. I have a sensitive palate that picks up even subtle flavors, I simply have a sip and relish through the ingredients. I know this will make some cringe, but I find cool water and some ice actually brings out layers of flavor that are otherwise condensed and overpowered neat. I like to alternate between neat and fresh spring water with some ice. The flavors that come out are vastly different and equally enjoyable.

  • I don’t understand the bit about the chemistry from adding the water. I’m an engineer and although I now believe people that this makes a difference (tasted it myself at a Scottish festival), I don’t see how. Since any Scotch is limited to something like 60% ABV, the rest of it is mostly water. So what is the difference between the water it’s normally suspended in, and the few extra drops you add?
    Thanks, nice site

    • Hi Joel,
      From what I understand about the chemistry, there are volatile compounds, esters, and things like fusel alcohols and organic compounds that would normally evaporate, but are instead trapped by tightly-wound protein chains and/or loosely chemically bonded to the alcohol or water molecules in the spirit. By adding as little as one drop of water, new bonds are formed instantly by the water with some molecules that were previously in equilibrium. This causes protein chains to unwind and/or loose bonds to break, releasing some of the volatile compounds, which evaporate. There’s no doubt an “ideal” quantity of water at which the most trapped compounds evaporate, but then every drop of water is also diluting the solution. This is all of course a wild over-simplification pulled wholly from memory, so don’t quote me on any of that, but it’s the explanation that I’ve come to accept. 🙂 Cheers!

  • i am living in pakistan and drinking whiskey single malt of murree brewery with full glass of mineral water is it better for health ?

    • Mezi,
      While drinking water is always good for your health (mineral or otherwise), it will have no effect whatsoever on how healthy the whisky is. Any kind of alcohol should be consumed in moderation (many theories abound on what moderation is, but I’d say around 1 fluid ounce of spirits per drink, around 7 per week, never more than two drinks in a sitting) if you’re concerned about your health.

  • So I am not new to single malt scotch but I am yet to try it the reccomended way.
    I live in Australia and for instance a 12 YO Balvenie doublewood is around 75-80 AUD (around the same in USD as last time i checked our dollar was close to par.)

    For more perspective a 12 YO Glenfidditch is 50 AUD.
    So my question is, is the Balvenie still worth the outlay?

    I like the taste of single malt scotch but have only drank it diluted as the burn in my throat wasn’t worth it.

    I will definitely try a single malt again in the way you recommend.

    I cant really go out to bars to try them either as most bars stock the usual blends which I am not a fan of.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hmm. Is Balvenie DoubleWood worth $25 AUD more than Glenfiddich 12? I personally won’t pay more than $25 for Glenfiddich 12, and I wouldn’t pay more than $50 for Balvenie DoubleWood – although I’d be upset to have to pay that much (it’s usually $40 here).

      By the way, there are several excellent Australian and Tasmanian whiskies that are on the market – you might want to look into those, in case they retail locally for less. The few that make it to the USA are very expensive.

      To avoid the burn in your throat – try holding the whisky (a smallish sip) in your mouth for 10 seconds, letting it ‘burn’ there – until the burn subsides, and then swallow. Try this two or three times in a row and I think you’ll find it a lot easier to enjoy. I personally never swallow straight whisky quickly, as I’ve always had an aversion to taking shots.


      • Just paid $113 AUD for Belvenie 15 for a gift. First time picking a Scotch it was either that or Macallan 12 for $79. Chose the Belvenie in the hope that 3 years and $34 makes for a nicer gift.

        After reading your articles I’m tempted to try it for myself 🙂

        Nice site – very useful information, thankyou.

  • Excellent article here. I’m still a fan of my scotch with a bit of ice, as I know many people are. This article definitely taught me to enjoy and savor every flavor in every glass. I actually just wrote an article about the best ice for scotch, and cited your article here for its quality and information. The quality of your ice makes a HUGE difference in whether it should be used or not… Check it out, and keep up the quality posts! Especially those about Lagavulin and Bowmore… Mmmmm…

  • Ive been looking for a site that doesnt make a new single malt drinker feel like an idiot for not knowing thanks for that! Im new to thegame and wanted to know if its ok to use a flask for single malt when going out so i havesome good macallan 18 at a party. Also can you store a good single malt in a decanter or is the original bottle stored in a dark cabinet best? Thanks

    • Hi Cliff, welcome to the site! A flask is perfectly fine for transporting single malt – I often bring something special to a party to share with friends, and a flask is perfect for that. Unless it’s a glass flask, though, I recommend emptying any leftovers out and not storing them in the flask – alcohol in metal flasks can pick up weird metallic flavors (probably aluminum or nickel ions) when left for several days. Blech.

      You can transfer whisky into a glass decanter if you wish, but be warned that exposure to light will (eventually) cause the whisky to undergo chemical changes and eventually go “bland”, just like exposure to oxygen does. If you know you’ll drink the contents of the decanter within a few weeks I doubt you’ll notice a change, but left sitting in the light for several months, it will probably begin to alter the flavor. Check my article: How to Store Whisky for more info. Cheers!

    • Hi Kumar,
      I assume you mean how much can you drink per day, considering the health implications? I imagine a doctor would say no more than one drink per day. That’s generally how much I drink, but I don’t have the training to give medical advice. I recommend asking your doctor.

  • A real rookie at liquors, even though I am an adult in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. What are some good quality Scotches and is CROWN ROYAL a Scotch and if not, what is it? If a Scotch, is it of good quality?

    • Hi Douglas,
      I recommend that people new to scotch try some of the more inexpensive single-malts first, such as Glenlivet 12 or Glenfiddich 12. The next step might be something like The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood, which is a little pricier, but gives a good introduction to sherried single malts. Here’s some more info: //scotchnoob.com/2012/02/23/picking-your-first-single-malt-scotch/

      Crown Royal is a Canadian Whisky (whereas ‘Scotch’ means Scottish whisky). I personally think Crown Royal is too “sticky sweet” to be enjoyed by itself, and is thus better mixed in drinks.

      • Hello. I’ve been reading so much here lately since I was gifted a bottle of CR12. I have sampled Bowmore and Glenlivet before but this is my true introduction now. Definitely piqued my interest to try a single malt soon. I respect your point of view with your reviews, you don’t pretend that you are the ultimate authority but your reviews are very thorough. Thank you.
        As far as Cdn whisky Crown Royal goes, it was my drink of choice for years, due to how smooth it tasted compared to other Canadian whiskys. But lately I discovered Forty Creek Copper Pot which is more flavourful to me. Oh yes, scotch is expensive in Ontario, $99 for Balvenie doublewood for example. $79 Cragganmore 12, $55 JWBL (sale price too, normally $58)

        • Thanks for the note! Have you tried Lot 40? It’s currently my favorite Canadian whisky. Crown Royal Northern Harvest is #2, although I’ve disliked other Crown bottlings in the past, something about the Northern Harvest makes it fantastic. As for prices, I agree, I’ve had numerous readers tell me how obscene the prices are in Canada. 🙁

          • Yes I have had Lot 40 and enjoyed it very much. Mostly had it neat, the rye bread taste was new to me. As for single malts I’ve had Glenmorangie 10 (ok but a bit too light but on the other hand the nose was heavy on alcohol ), Ardmore Legacy (liked it better as I had more) and HP12 which I didn’t like at first but it’s growing on me a bit. When it comes to blends I (finally) discovered JWBL, that might be my sweet spot. Where has this been all my life?
            As for water with scotch, I usually add a third of a teaspoon to everything.

  • This is an old article, but I’m browsing through your site again and thought I’d throw in something funny…

    I was reading a review of a bourbon (maybe one of the higher-end Wild Turkeys?) and the distiller himself said “I like to keep it in the freezer so it is chilled without diluting”. And I thought “isn’t that the OPPOSITE of what your objective should be??”. A little dilution is generally a good thing to me! Too cold and you’re just wasting the complex flavors, like when a very nice beer is served to you at 35′.

    • Hi Drago,
      Interesting story. I’ve noticed odd advice from people in the industry a few times before. I have a theory that when you spend all day nosing/tasting diluted room-temp spirits, that you crave something different at home. (Blenders usually dilute their components down far below 30 proof in order to assess flavor components other than alcohol)

      Much like my ice cream analogy… just because ice cream is frozen to reduce the sweet flavor to something manageable, doesn’t mean you’d want to melt it in order to get the “full taste experience”! As usual, it all comes down to what your own taste buds tell you – frozen, room temp, or iced, a little water or a lot, whatever lets you enjoy it, even if you’re the distiller! 🙂

  • Ok, I see that I will be the odd man out so I come humbly on both knees over a trail of broken glass to say the following –

    After going through about 40 bottles in my first year (2012) of drinking scotch – all straight – all held often for well over a minute or even two in my mouth, I burned the “crap” out of my mouth. I had to simply stop drinking for a while for healing. As a result, I turned to ice to water down my fine scotch (and I have many lovely scotches including in the $90 – 150 range). Since then I have found that I have come to enjoy this somewhat MORE watered down than the distillery ALREADY did when they bottled it. However, key point, there is indeed a point of “no return” – there is a point where the taste does indeed become diluted. Therefore, you have to get to know your scotch as to what it can handle – and what it can’t.

    Yes, I still wrestle with some mouth burn – but not like before – AND I have realized that more former puritanical stance was misplaced – I have really enjoyed LIGHTLY iced scotch.

    • Thanks for the comment, Greg. I heartily believe that everyone should drink their whisky in the way that best suits them. What I try to get across on the blog (although I’m not sure how often I succeed) is that everyone needs to *try* it both (all?) ways, rather than picking one approach after seeing friends/movie stars/whisky reps drink it that way. Clearly, you’ve done your experimentation! I’m sorry to hear about your taste troubles… all I can offer is my own experience – I probably drink one to two (on average) glasses of straight single-malt per day, about 1/4 of which is cask strength with just a few drops of water. While just drinking (not analyzing) a whisky, I probably hold it on my palate for 3-5 seconds. I’ve never noticed any degradation in my taste buds, although higher proof whisky does tend to numb them for a short time after. When I am analyzing a whisky for the blog, I hold each sip for 10-12 seconds.

      • SN

        Thanks for your gracious response. I very much like the idea of trying everything to see what works. In my most newbie days I was full of the youthful pride that scotch must be drunk straight (not entirely being aware that most was watered down to some extent in the first place…ouch). I have since matured albeit primarily due to causes beyond my control…:-)

        I must note that the “ic-ing” must be done carefully while gaining experience. Neither my 40ABV Scapa16 nor 40ABV Bushmills21, while both very delicious, cannot handle much ice. Other expressions can handle more and still maintain their full taste or, perhaps, more. In other words, the icing I am referring to is NOT the filling up of the glass with ice and then pouring some scotch on it. I pour the scotch and then calculate how many of the uber small cubes that it withstand.

        As to my taste troubles – I appreciate your condolences. I would clarify to say that it is more of a tissue trouble – my tongue has been burned to a crisp and my lips are swollen at the worst as well as the roof of my mouth and other sundry mouth tissue. HOWEVER, there is a major difference in terms of holding or “Tasting” time between what I was doing and what you describe above. I would hold for literally sometimes minutes at a time…quite the rush (isn’t that part of the magic – the immediate absorption of alcohol vapors into the brain…???). Unlike callouses that form on the fingers while playing steel strings, the mouth does not have such a protective dimension as I have sadly learned…. Needless to say, that practice has been eliminated and I never hold my somewhat watered down scotch for longer than about 30 seconds now.


  • Great review… I dont use a straw though… I rincr my glass real quick beore pouring my scotch in it(makin sure there is not to much water)

  • I enjoy macallin 12 but my friend never had Scotch will this be a good Scotch for him to try for his first time. He drink mostly beer and whiskey sours. If that is important.

  • I always drink my scotch and whisky cold and straight up, no mixers, no water, no ice, but my favorite compliment to scotch other than hockey and maduro cigars is sweet tea. I started drinking that when I moved to Atlanta and have never stopped. my favorites are macallan 18, glenmorangie-quinta ruban, glenkinchie-distiller’s edition, orangestone 21…and extremely old bottles of pinch.

    • My fav’ addition to ‘blended’ is a small piece of candied ginger in the bottom of the bottle…
      To experience the full flavor of blended whiskeys they should be served in Silver instead of glass…

    • Value-Rite vodka; room temperature, a bit of hobo flesh to round out the esoteric nuances and a dollop or two of cool whip (Just for fun!), produces the finest single-malt experience imaginable. Of course a straw-filled measure of water, four/five drops (never one, two or three!), couldn’t hurt.

  • Just from reading books on whisky, I have the understanding that the distillery’s malt master dilute the drink A LOT to get the alcohol percentage down to 30% (at the most).

    My personal preference is putting about 1/5 water in the whisky to experience as much of the flavor as possible.

  • I just found this site and really enjoyed reading the string of comments from such a wide cross-section of new and experienced scotch drinkers.
    I keep a small selection of single malts at home because guests often have different taste preferences (Lafroaig, Glenfidich, Talisker, Tobermory, my favorite Caol Ila, and even an Irish Whiskey Single Malt Knappogue Castle). It’s fun to pour a couple of ounces of their choice, add two or three drops of spring water, and then chat for a few minutes without sliding the glass over. When a little time has passed I act surprised and say “Oh, let me make a fresh one for you.” while I pour a second drink ‘neat’ and give them that. After they start on that, I suggest they try the first drink I made, suggesting that they might find the taste to be a little different after ‘breathing’. Nearly all comment that this second version seems to have much more flavor and aroma (‘nose’). I think it is a combination of both the water and the time allowed for the breaking down of the amino acid chains so I always let my drinks sit and react with the water drops for a few minutes before enjoying. I don’t advocate that as the only way for all but have found it to be best for me. I find it even works well with blends such a Chivas Regal and Dewars when I am at gatherings where the bar is limited to such.

  • As a true Scot I would say – under no circumstances should water be added to a premium single malt. Would you add water to champagne or fine cognac? What about a premium strong dark beer? of course not! Expensive whisky is so for a reason – it’s flavour. You won’t appreciate it if you dilute it. Any “professional” in the whiskey trade saying otherwise should be sacked, and anyone trying to do so in a bar in Scotland should run for the hills before they’re thrown out!

    • David, I’m sure there are many different kinds of “true Scots” – I have read, heard, and seen many whisky professionals adding SMALL AMOUNTS of water to premium single malts, especially cask-strength malts. In fact, I’ve never heard of a whisky professional advising against the addition of water. It’s well known that small amounts of water cause new volatile compounds and esters to form in a glass of malt, releasing new, fleeting aromas. Why deprive oneself of this experience? I’ve also read (although not personally seen) that many whisky bars and distillery tasting rooms IN SCOTLAND provide a small ceramic pitcher of water for the exact purpose of adding a few drops to a dram. Some distilleries even bottle their own spring water to sell for this purpose. As far as the argument against dilution goes, a few drops of water reduces a reasonable dram of whisky by, AT MOST, 1% to 2%, hardly noticeable in terms of strength. I heartily recommend that you visit a few distilleries (which is far easier for you than me!) and ask whether they recommend the addition of small amounts of water.

      • By “true Scot” I simply meant Scottish born and living in Scotland. My opinion, and almost everyone I know, is that expensive malts should be drunk neat – you wouldn’t go into an expensive and exclusive London restaurant and ask for ketchup or tomato sauce to “bring out the flavour” – the chef would come screaming from the kitchen with a carving knife! I can only assume the “professionals” condoning the addition of water to malt whisky are misguided at best – or English! (a joke!)Pleased to see you yourself don’t share these heretical views! 🙂

  • I and many other Scots, hold much the same views about those who take porridge with sugar or honey, or countries that won’t allow the import of genuine Scottish haggis, or Irn Bru! 🙁

  • You’re all wrong. There should only be one “small” block of ice (equates to a few Dutch water drops) used to consume single malt scotch 12 years or older. Give it a try! At least, that’s how real men drink it.

  • I recently started drinking Scotch. Used to be a cognac guy but after having Hennessy VS is was gross. I like Scotch and Bourbons more now. I love Macallan 12 and Glenfiddish 18. Couldn’t stand the Glenlevit (sp). Should I try the 3-4 drops of water in my glass next time.

  • The tradition calls for your beautiful barmaid to squeeze an Icecube over the raised glass so you can watch the serpent wake and swirl as the water hits the Scotch…
    “Waking the Serpent” thus will also tell you how ‘hot’ your barmaid is for you… eh laddie ?
    If y’ dinna like the Islays like Glenlivet try a Speyside, much less peaty/smokey… My fav’ is Dimple (aka Pinch) but a 12 year old Glenfarclas is a fine substitute…

  • Well said. Single malt neat in a Glencairn glass is the best way to go. I sometimes add a teaspoon cold water to open it up a bit but that’s all.

  • I like my Scotch and Bourbon both neat, but often keep a glass of ice on the side to sip as it melts. It’s nice to refresh my palate once in a while and The Macallan 18 lasts a lot longer!

  • I typically drink my single malts neat or with a few drops of spring water now that I’ve gotten into Scotch. However when I started drinking Scotch it was on the rocks. I still enjoy it but now I only drink cheaper blends on the rocks. I’d love to see an article rating or advising which Whiskies are better or tailored for drinking on the rocks.

    • Hi DJ,
      I personally rarely use ice in whisky, just because I prefer it neat or with a little water. Once in awhile I’ll have bourbon (especially inexpensive bourbon) on the rocks. For scotch, a good dividing line is anything that’s blended scotch (i.e. not a “single malt” or “blended malt”, but something that contains grain whisky in addition to malt) and relatively inexpensive (say, under $40) is probably better with ice. Of course, it’s all just personal preference and there’s really no wrong way to do it. You’re best off experimenting to figure out what you prefer rather than letting me or anyone tell you how to drink. Cheers!

      • I couldn’t stop myself from responding. I am quite the independent thinker but I love to read and critique others’ opinions.

        Glenlivet 12 on the rocks is what got me into scotch. The only reason I learned better was talking to the owner of this awesome Irish Pub near me. He also got me into Scapa 14 which I miss dearly. I shudder to think about this now but before I learned better I drank 1/4 of a bottle of Scapa 16 on the rocks. Now I won’t even drink Glenlivet 12 on the rocks.

        Right now I only drink Famous Grouse and JW Red on the rocks and to some degree I prefer them this way but also enjoy them neat. I can’t drink bubbles and hate sweet drinks so a watered down scotch on the rocks is my go to at a party. I suppose seeking opinions from purists probably isn’t the best place to go but I guess I was wondering about all the really cheap stuff I see. Should I even bother with the $20 1.75 stuff like Scorsby?

        • Hi DJ,
          I haven’t tried Scorsby, but my experience with cheap blends has been that they’re all either bland to the point of irrelevance (like Dewars) or have a paint-thinner/young alcohol flavor that is difficult to get past. I very much enjoy Bank Note 5 year, which is very cheap and has some real flavor without the young grain character. I haven’t found much else in that price range worth mentioning.

  • OK, someone answer me this…

    I understand adding a whole ice cube to a dram is “sin” considering after it melts it’s much more than the recommended 4-5 drops of water.

    And freezing your whiskey supposedly “kills the flavors/aromas”.. but what if you freeze it then pour it and 10 minutes later it’s had a chance to “warm up and open up” is that not the same as not freezing it in the first place??

    I just like my whiskey cold but don’t want to water it down so is just putting the bottle in the freezer but letting the whiskey “breathe” a little after pouring the answer or not??


    • First, I should reiterate that you should drink it however you like. Anyone who says that something is a “sin” with whisky drinking is being a pompous ass. However, you’re right that if you’re trying to get the best experience out of your whisky, that’s more likely to happen with a little water vs. a lot, and a little cold vs frozen. Remember that it gets pretty cold in Scotland, and the Scots are used to drinking it at “room temperature” which is considerably colder in the winter there than where I am in California! If you freeze and thaw whisky, no harm will come to it. However, you might be better off putting the bottle in the fridge and then letting it open up for a few minutes until it hits your target temperature. Alternatively, you could try just freezing your whisky glass and pouring room temp whisky into it. Lastly, there’s always the various “whisky stones” on the market, which chill without watering down. I’ve never tried them, but I’m guessing the steel ones with liquid inside will chill best, while the stone ones will chill less but stay the same temperature for longer. Cheers!

  • Thanks for the kind response and I will definitely take your recommendations for a spin.. especially the steel stones and freezing the glass first. Cheers!

  • Any thoughts on the Auchentoshan Three Wood as a first foray into whiskey? From what I’ve read from around the internet it seems most places are recommending either Glenmorangie 10 or Highland Park 12 (and I saw you recommend Balvenie 12) as a good first single-malt whiskey, but I read one convincing article about Auchentoshan and the reviews for it from around the net seem very positive. I imagine I would like the flavor profile of it, and that it’s not too harsh as a first scotch. Any thoughts?

    • Here’s my review of Three Wood: //scotchnoob.com/2013/08/19/auchentoshan-three-wood/ – it’s a BIG whisky with a lot of flavor, in the general category known as “sherry bombs”. I think it would be a fine first single malt. I recommend Balvenie DoubleWood 12 because it’s an “all-rounder” and a gentle intro. Glenmorangie 10 is cheaper and a good value, but basic. HP 12 is good, but I think it verges on bitter and not everyone enjoys smoky (peated) whisky the first time. Macallan 12 or GlenDronach 12 would also be good introductions, albeit in the same “sherry bomb” category as Auchentoshan Three Wood.

      My suggestion is to go for the Three Wood, knowing most of its flavor is derived from sherry, and then for your second scotch get something from ex-bourbon, like the Glenmorangie, a Glenlivet 12 or 18, or Glenfiddich 12 or 18. That way you get a good sense of the differences. For #3, go for something peated like Laphroaig 10, Talisker 10, Lagavulin 16, or Ardbeg 10 and see how you feel about peat. (Even better, get a glass at a bar first). Cheers!

  • There’s nothing wrong with having Scotch on the rocks. You paid for it, drink it the way you want. Sure, It’s cheaper to drink blended Scotch on the rocks. But once in awhile, I love having Ardbeg on the rocks in the winter.

    You be the judge because it’s your hard on cash.

  • So, I’m new to the site, and have only been into whiskey for about 2 years. But I’m an “on the rocks” guy. I can’t seem to enjoy room temp whiskey and don’t have the ability to chill it in bottle. I’ve put the effort into making clear hard ice so it is a slow melt and doesn’t dilute the the second half of my drink.

    • Hi and welcome to the site! Have you tried higher-end whiskies at room temperature? I rarely drink lower-cost blends at room temp – they’re often too rough or hot (alcoholic burn) to enjoy that way… but give me a $50 bottle of single malt and I’ll only drink it neat. That’s my preference, anyway, and experimentation with both inexpensive and costly whisky has brought me to that conclusion. Cheers!

  • I’ve been drinking Jack Daniel’s neat (along with Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel) for 25 years… and I mean ONLY that. Never developed a “taste” for beer or wine. Someone gifted me a bottle of Macallan 18 today. I’ve yet to open it. Googled for “How to drink Macallan” and this was the first result. Gonna try your advice as soon as the steak is marinated and shrimp cocktail is defrosted. Thanks!

  • I am a new and novice scotch and bourbon drinker. I don’t mind scotch on the rocks but i would like to buy some whisky rocks. I did try some JW Black label (3 ozs) mixed with 1/2 oz of water. It really opened the drink up nicely. Take care and thanks for all the information.

  • I’ve just had a dram of Oban 14yrs with a little ice and a splash of spring water, very nice it was too! Always had a taste for whisky and these tasting notes are v.helpful! My Scottish brother in law works for Diageo and always recommends scotch and thread as it opens up the flavours…and he’s a true Scot living in Scotland!

  • This is a really fantastic break-down on the pros and cons of ice and scotch or whiskey. For me, the question of ice vs no ice vs water depends hugely on the type of drink I’m after. For example, I prefer a Manhattan straight-up. Conversely, if I’m enjoying a nice Gentleman Jack drink, then I prefer on the rocks. I definitely think there are benefits distinct to ice, no ice, and water.

  • 4 or 5 drops of water per how much scotch? Also what are your thoughts on adding Perrier? Mr. Christoper Hitchens was a fan of black label, perrier, no ice. Thought? Thanks!

    • Hi Rohit! There’s no formula, exactly, I add between 4 drops and a small splash to a “glass” (~1.5 to 2 ounces of whisky). I add fewer drops if the ABV is 40%, and I add a bit more (a splash) if it’s at or near cask-strength (50% ABV and up). I’ll also adjust as I go: Try it neat, and if it makes my eyes tear up, I’ll add some water, taste again, etc.

      As for Perrier, my personal opinion is that any sparkling or carbonated water makes it a different drink (a scotch-and-soda), which can be a very nice drink, but isn’t usually what I’m after. For blended scotch, like Black Label or Bank Note, a little club soda or sparkling water and a few ice cubes is awesome on a hot day. Still, to really smell, taste, and appreciate a nice single malt, I personally use only clean, fresh, filtered water, or nothing at all. As I said above in the article – try it both ways and see what works for you!

  • So you and all of the experts seem to agree that adding a few drops of water helps to unlock the flavors from Scotch. How is this possible – the Scotch already contains water, in fact it is about 60% water?

    • Hi Leo. My limited understanding of the chemistry involved is that there are volatile organic compounds that are bound up with molecules of alcohol, which are relatively stable (in solution) in the bottle. No doubt these molecules reach a different equilibrium when water is added at bottling time, and perhaps cask-strength whiskies have more volatile compounds in solution than 40% ABV ones do. At any rate, when you pour your glass, some of the compounds are released by the agitation (which you can smell), and even more are released by agitation in the glass (swirling). By adding more water, you are chemically altering the bonds of some more of those compounds, including ones that don’t agitate out of solution so easily. This is why sometimes the added water will release “new” aromas that weren’t present when poured. Indeed, the same is true of compounds that are released the longer the liquid sits in the glass, which can cause a glass of whisky to “evolve” over time as different compounds are released due to changes in temperature, oxidation, etc.

  • Drink your scotch as you like it. I will say this however- In Scotland, the locals who consume these fine single malts, virtually all add a good bit of water to them. (Drinking it neat is extremely rare there, except for those distilling for QA reasons and such)
    One might presume the local Scots know something about drinking them, since these whiskeys originated from there.
    I am for adding a good bit of water, as much a 1:2 ratio. (Two parts Scotch, one part water) ie, 1/3 water. Get past the sting and bite of alcohol, and start exploring the actual flavors of the Scotch itself.

  • This begins with bullshit because anyone who really knows about whiskey or Scotch knows that water or ice opens the flavor and the tannins so fuck this website

    • You have anger management issues, which I can’t do anything about, and reading comprehension issues, which I can: “Nowadays just about everyone agrees that a little (emphasis on ‘little’) water helps a whisky (especially subtle or floral single malts) ‘open up’ in the glass.” Please read before writing garbage comments like this. As for ice, it’s true that the water melting from the ice has the same effect, HOWEVER, “anyone who really knows about whiskey or Scotch” knows that lower temperatures dull flavors. Only use ice (instead of water) if you’re trying to dull the flavors of your whisky.

  • The Best Site for Scotch lovers. I read your whole blog and you earned my respect. Respect Scotch. I learned that from the Beer Advocate. Respect Beer!
    I like beer. Craft beer. Not IPA’s though. I can drink almost any whisky/whiskies with beer except Scotch. Irish and Rye mostly as far as whisky goes and tequila has it’s on blog. But I want my Glenlivet on the rocks since 1981. And I want it in First Class at 33,000 feet and climbing…going 555 miles per hour, on the rocks. NO DEWARS!!! Gimme the Bombay Blue Sapphire…make it a double.
    Great place to learn which I gratefully did. I’ve been to a couple of Scotch tastings in the Ft Worth area, Glenfiddich and McCallan and I still have an eyedropper bottle-with water- from one distiller. Neither distiller was an “on the rocks” advocate. They didn’t change my mind. But one drop of water in a dram didn’t do it for me. I think I cheated and stole ice from my water glass but they don’t give you the pour you get at home.
    I wish you great success for 2017!!! Salute amigo!!

  • will admit my fav for last couple of years is George Dickle Rye, 2 shots in a 10 oz glass 3 ice cubes and splash of water. I m set to sit on the porch and relax to some tunes

  • Sweet! Somebody on my side! And I totally agree 😀
    Strange that I didn’t find you sooner..

    The thing with whisky is, that cooling it only dulls the flavours and actually suppresses them. Many happen to not understand the value of a great Irish. And that’s fine. But then, better don’t drink it and stay with something more “average”. Water on the other hand often helps the whisky to open up and unfold its characteristics. 😉 Therefore I’d prefer adding ice (if!) since it has the effect of cooling the whisky, suppressing some flavours and afterwards helping it to unfold. If that makes any sense to you? However, I don’t usually drink my whisky with ice. Exactly: (“straight up”: no ice) It is simply the best (for me)!

    In the end, it is all a matter of personal taste and preference. If you like your whisky or any other spirit cold then add some ice. Go for it, drink it how you like it the best… Not how you’re told to…

    I always serve my better whisk(e)ys from a decanter. I feel that a whisky decanter further emphasises the context of the occasion and it enables us (me and whoever is over) appreciate it better. Nobody really is asking for ice or even soda when it comes from a classy decanter! (Or at least they shouldn’t ^^)
    Currently, the favourite one of my collection is a Ravenscroft Blade. How do you serve your whisky?
    Gonna crawl your posts now, perhaps I’ll find out?


  • I sometimes use analytical grade deionised water. It does the trick. 3 to 4 drops of it and it opens up the whisky.

    That’s good ol’ battery water 😉