This Is How to Drink Whiskey Neat

Wondering how to drink whiskey neat? We'll show you the best way to appreciate all of the complex flavors this fiery spirit has to offer.

Whiskey is a very versatile spirit. You can drink it hot, cold and hey, you can even bake with it! From sweet slushes to complex vintage cocktails, whiskey drinks are a mainstay on every bar menu. But there is something to be said for appreciating it all on its own. When you’re ready to become a whiskey connoisseur, this is how to drink whiskey neat.

What is a whiskey neat?

Whiskey neat is whiskey served without any mixer, additional flavor (think cocktail bitters) or dilution. It seems like this would be a glass of whiskey “straight up” but surprisingly when you order a spirit that way you’re telling your bartender to mix it with ice first and then strain it into your glass. It’s true, bartenders have a kind of secret code language and here are some other things they aren’t telling you!

How do you drink whiskey neat?

The best way to drink whiskey neat is out of a lowball cocktail glass at room temperature. Two ounces is the correct serving size for this drink but bartenders shouldn’t use a jigger or other measuring tool for this drink. The goal of a drink served neat is to go straight from the bottle to the glass with as little interruption as possible. (By the way, here’s how to stock a home bar).

A whiskey neat is a drink made to be sipped slowly—the goal is to appreciate the nuance of the whiskey. It may be poured the same way as a shot of liquor but it definitely shouldn’t be consumed all in one gulp.

Although the point of a whiskey neat is to savor the whiskey with no dilution, many whiskey enthusiasts would argue a few drops of water can make a whiskey neat much more interesting. The compounds that make up the aroma of a glass of whiskey are hydrophobic (meaning they repel water) so they are more volatile and easier to sense when water is added to the glass.

If you’re just starting to drink your whiskey neat, it’s a good idea to order some ice on the side. You can take a few sips of the liquor neat and then add ice cubes one at a time to see how the temperature and dilution affects your drink. A practiced drinker will find the hot alcohols of undiluted whiskey interesting and even pleasant, but there is no reason to feel you have to finish your whole whiskey neat right away.

What’s the best whiskey to drink neat?

Bourbon is a good starter whiskey if you’re just getting into drinking it neat. The high proportion of corn used to make it gives it a sweeter flavor that calms some of the alcohol burn. If you like a bit of spice, rye whiskey could be a good place to start; it’s drier than bourbon but the spiced character of the rye also helps tone down the alcohol character when drinking it neat.

These are the types of whiskey you really need to know.

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Mandy Naglich
Mandy is a food and beverage writer with bylines at WNYC, Munchies, Mic and October. She's a Certified Cicerone and award-winning homebrewer living, writing and cooking in New York City.