Skip to main content
Report this ad

Rocks, neat, or splash of water - how should you drink your whiskey?

A large ice sphere. Didn't they use these in Labyrinth?
A large ice sphere. Didn't they use these in Labyrinth?

Like the debate raged over James Bond's request for a martini "shaken, not stirred', whiskey drinkers find themselves with a conundrum - neat, rocks, or splash of water? What's the real difference and can budding whiskey connoisseurs determine which is "best"? The answer, like whiskey itself, is an individual taste, but let's take a quick look at the different ways you can enjoy your beverages.

Bushmills 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey - neat
Bill DeVoe

Neat, Straight, Straight Up

The standard way of enjoying Scotch and Irish whiskeys, neat simply means that you're requesting the whiskey in a glass by itself. By drinking a whiskey neat you are experiencing the most direct flavor experience with the spirit. Most connoisseurs (and snobs) would say that neat is the only way to enjoy a good Scotch or whiskey. Au contraire, mon frere.

On the Rocks

When ordering whiskey on the rocks, be prepared to put up with a bit of guff from your mates in the bar or pub. Again, since most connoisseurs (or wannabes) tend to think that neat is the only way to drink it, they also tend to look down on those who like ice in their beverages. The general problem claimed is that the ice melts and upsets the balance of water and spirit in the glass, watering down the drink and diluting the flavor. This is so much the case, that the Japanese have invented an ice ball maker (shown in slideshow). Ice balls melt slower than ice cubes and should, in theory, cool your drink while not watering it down. But there's a third way (and this reviewer's personal favorite now)...

Splash of Water

Adding a splash of water to your whiskey can do much to bring out the full flavor of a spirit and adds distinctly to the nose of your whiskey. I have seen several distiller websites (Stranahan's and Redbreast's, in particular) that actually recommending enjoying their spirit with a little water. The splash does thin the spirit a little, but it also brings out the aroma a lot more. Another benefit is that it can also reduce the numbing sensation on your tongue, allowing you to experience more of the subtle flavors. When ordering at a bar you can either get the bartender to put the water in for you or you can get water on the side and do it yourself. Of course, the main complaint with this approach from others is that it waters down the whiskey and changes the experience.

Mixed Drinks

There is, of course, another way to enjoy whiskey and that is mixed in a cocktail. This is the most popular form for enjoying rye whiskeys, Tennessee whiskeys (like Jack Daniels), and even bourbons (like Jim Beam and Wild Turkey).

Drinking whiskey should be an enjoyable experience, whether on the rocks, neat, with a splash of water, or even mixed in with a cocktail. If you pay for it, you should be able to decide how best to enjoy it. I strongly recommend trying all of these with your favorite spirits to see which works best for which ones. Generally when trying a new whiskey I'll try it with a splash of water to get a feel for the texture and flavor before trying it neat or on the rocks.

As always, feel free to pass along your hints and tricks for great tastings in the comments section below.

For more information about the Ice Ball Maker, please check out Japan Trends' website


  • Rebekah Mori 4 years ago

    Personally, I go for just a splash of water. If someone prefers on the rocks, I would always chilled it in a cocktail shaker full of ice and then fill the rocks glass with fresh ice. I've found that method limits the meltdown effect.

  • deepak 1 year ago

    The american whiskeys are little stronger than scottish whiskey. For example I tasted Jack Daniels bourboun neat and chivas regal neat . I felt jack Daniels touched my throat a bit more. I found single malt even lighter than blended scotch. I compared glenfidditch with chivas regal and black label Jonny walker and felt glenfiddich smoother than both blended whiskeys. My personal opinion.

Report this ad