It’s hard to improve a glass of neat, unadulterated whiskey. But sometimes, just pouring a nip in a glass doesn’t allow the whiskey—be it bourbon, scotch, rye or Japanese single malt—to fully shine. Once in a while, your dram might need to be dressed up just a touch to let some of those underlying flavors blossom. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your favorite whiskey, here are five super simple upgrades that will make the brown spirit sing.
Use a Glass Designed Specifically for Whiskey
Though a whiskey glass might sound gimmicky—and, frankly, sometimes they are—there’s a reason professional tasters use them: They work. When you first pour a glass of whiskey and incline your nose to get a good whiff, you’re often hit with ethanol aromas. But a good whiskey glass will allow you to first effectively swirl the liquor around in the glass so those less pleasant aromas can escape, leaving you with only the best stuff. We prefer tulip-shaped glasses like the traditional Glencairn Whisky Glass or the modern, double-walled Norlan Whisky Glass.
Add a Few Drops of Water
Even the experts agree: While sipping on a measure straight from the bottle is never a bad way to enjoy whiskey, adding a few drops of water will help you get the most out of a dram. Whether you use water straight from the tap or a version bottled specifically for whiskey, it has the ability to open a whiskey up, which dissipates ethanol and allows flavors of baking spices, citrus and oak to shine through.
Chill It With Big Ice
If you like your whiskey with a bit of chill and dilution, slide a big cube or sphere of ice into the glass. A larger chunk will melt more slower than a handful of small cubes, which ensures your drink stays properly frosty. As the ice melts, the flavor of your whiskey will evolve, so you’ll be able to pick out flavors that you may not have noticed upon first sip. A large block of crystal clear ice is also a beautiful addition to any glass. If that’s not enough to convince you to put ice in whiskey, remember that even Anthony Bourdain likes a rock in his scotch.
Go For A Garnish
While we typically save garnishes for cocktails—whether it’s a cherry in a Manhattan or an orange peel in an Old Fashioned—sometimes a little extra oomf of flavor and aroma is just what your fire water needs. For sweeter, rounder whiskies like bourbon, express an orange or lemon peel over your dram to bring out the citrus notes. For scotches and other single malts, try a cherry to smooth out the smoky edge or an herb sprig to complement the whiskey’s flavor.
Dash It With Bitters
Not unlike a garnish, bitters can add a hint of additional flavor to a glass of whiskey and help enhance underlying notes of baking spice or fruit. Luckily, you can find just about any flavor of bitters you want, whether it’s slightly bitter and spiced like traditional Angostura, citrusy like Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6, or any of the wide variety of flavorings from companies like The Bitter Truth and, Bittermens.