There are many enjoyable ways to drink whiskey. By far, my favorite is standing in a circle and passing a bottle around, preferably in the woods. This is not appropriate for all situations, however, so other ways have evolved:
Neat – A variation on passing a bottle around, the whiskey is still straight, but it’s served in a glass, usually a two-ounce pour, except for the places with the fancy stuff that let you get a one-ounce poor. I like to taste a whiskey neat first to decide its true flavor, and then might add ice cubes if needed. This is a nice way to sip away an evening.
Recommended – Lagavulin Single Islay Malt Whisky, Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey
On the rocks – With ice. It has the nice effect of cooling the whiskey, taking the edge off some of the edgier ones, and making the drink last a little longer. It also makes for that nice clinking sound. Depending on how watered down you want it, this method can either require faster sipping or the occasional top-off. The proper way is to have a bucket of ice nearby for people to add rocks as needed.
Recommended – Elmer T. Lee Bourbon Whiskey, Four Roses Bourbon
As a shot – Straight pour, tilted back. Sipping not required or even recommended. This is usually done in celebration, to get to the later part of the evening a little earlier, or because it is the later part of the evening and all ideas sound excellent. Warning to novices – there are whiskies that are considered “sipping whiskies” and are often quite expensive. If someone treats you to one, sip and appreciate, don’t take it all at once.
Recommended – Jameson Irish Whiskey, Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky
As a mixer – Jack and Coke was my starter drink and is still a go-to for early in the evening. Whiskey can make a nice cocktail, as long as you aren’t wasting the good stuff, and is better in your coffee than cream. Jack and Ginger(ale) makes for a light, summer drink. My favorite Autumn drink is spiked cider with cinnamon, cloves, and a healthy tip of the bottle. For winter, I recently met Hot Toddy and he gives quite the comfort – tea heated in a big pot, add whiskey and lemons. For Spring, there is actually a whiskey sangria that you shouldn’t knock until you try it. And, of course, an old-fashioned favorite is a Manhattan, not too sweet with just a touch of class.
Recommended – See “In a Cocktail” page for recipes.
A chaser is acceptable if you are not of the whiskey-drinking variety and still want to partake, but, please, do not crinkle the nose, scrunch the mouth, or spit if you do not enjoy the whiskey. Others are enjoying, and a shout-out of “how can you drink this?” or “this stuff tastes like rubbing alcohol” will make you no friends.
Personal preference – cigars or pipes go better with whiskey than cigarettes.
The one amber-colored golden rule of whiskey is don’t drink too much. Savor it, love it, but don’t get sloppy. And it is best enjoyed in company. But there are exceptions to every rule…
As a general rule, drinking alone is a bad idea. A glass of wine with dinner or a nightcap, sure. But a true evening with a bottle of Scotch as your only companion will usually lead to a bad place where the tears go down with the whiskey.
There are, however, occasions when a girl needs Jack, James, Jim, etc, and no one else. One is heartache. You were going to have tears anyway, so may as well make them taste good, especially if the non-liquid form of Jack, James, Jim, etc was a total bastard as they probably were. It’s less fattening than ice cream, considerably warmer, and a good cry can be a good thing – just stop the drinking in time to not have to resent human Jack and liquid Jack on the same morning.
The opposite of this is celebration. Not the birthday celebration or anniversary celebration (for God’s sake), but the personal victories we have in our life. When I moved to New York on my own, my friends in Boston gave me a nice-sized bottle of Gentleman Jack. I was trying out NY for a year and trying out my independence. I had myself a drink the first night in my Brooklyn apartment, sleeping on the floor with all my possessions falling out of boxes around me. I had another swig when I put together my bed on my own (I didn’t say well, but it sort of held up under most circumstances – damn those Ikea slats). Another drink when I sold my car, when Obama was elected, when I got my first travel writing piece published, when I started dating again, when I moved into my second Brooklyn apartment, and finally, finally when I got a job (other than in a coffee shop) a little past my year deadline. I guess you could say I drank my way through my first year in NY alone – but it was just the one bottle.
My grandpa’s drink of choice was Scotch on the rocks. It went with the smell of his pipe smoke, the soft, but scratchy feel of his Pendleton shirts, and the look of his cowboy boots, the only shoes he wore out of the house. It was an easy drink to order at the Elk’s lodge, an easy drink for a child granddaughter to make. It fit well in a flask that may or may not be hiding in his cane or boot. And it was conveniently the same color as apple juice just in case he needed to play a trick on his grandsons. Scotch was necessary gear for hunting trips – where as far as we could tell, not much got killed except quite a few bottles of alcohol. I know he must have longed for a drink while spending WWII in a Japanese prison camp.
He drank other things – beer and white Russians and he even made his own wine and Kahlua. But I only remember him ordering one drink, whether from a bartender in the “smoking and swearing” section or from “squaw” – that was Grandma.
“Scotch on the rocks.”
I liked the clink of the ice against the glass, the pale color, the pungent and sweet smell. He liked a kind called Sheep Dip – more for the creative packaging that originated to get the alcohol bottles past the prohibition censors. Grandpa liked to feel he was doing something wrong, that he was a rebel, even though as long as I knew him he could pretty much do as he damn well pleased.
At his funeral party out on his lawn, the family stood in a circle and passed around one of his whiskey bottles. Cousins, aunts, maybe even Grandma took a swig from the bottle. My uncle put Grandpa’s picture in the cast on his hand so he could join us – he would not have wanted to miss it.
I guess in a way, even before I tasted a drop, the whiskey was already in my veins, already a presence in my memories of time spent with Grandpa in his gun room or relaxing out on the deck in the rare moments when the Portland weather was nice. It was only fitting that the first time I was ever drunk was on whiskey – in Dublin, Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. Me and whiskey, we’ve been friends ever since. But we knew each other even before we were properly introduced.