Should Whiskey be Chilled? Room temp is best, here’s why…


Unless you live under a rock, you have heard about whiskey. Heck, there are hundreds of songs devoted to the stuff! But unlike other alcohols that are drunk with the intention of getting drunk, a good whiskey should be enjoyed, but should it be chilled?

Chilling whiskey is a fantastic way for people to reduce the burn of alcohol, but it can alter some of the flavor notes of the drink. If you want to enjoy its natural flavor, you should store the liquor between 60-65 degrees.

Continue reading as we take a closer look at how whiskey is made and the best ways to drink it.

Whiskey glass and bottle

What Is Whiskey?

Okay, so you are familiar with the stuff, but what is whiskey anyway?

Whiskey is a distilled spirit that has been around for centuries. Although the exact history of the drink is unknown, it is guessed to have originated over a thousand years ago. Wine was already being produced by distillation, but when migration made it hard to find vineyards, the monks turned to fermenting grains instead—thus whiskey was born.

Since then, it has been used for many things, including medicine and currency during the Revolutionary War. It is made from fermented grains such as barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Its taste depends on how it is made and what it is aged in, but it will generally have a grainy, wooden taste with hints of spice and fruits.

Is It Spelt Whiskey or Whisky?

If we are going to talk about whiskey, we should learn how to spell it—whiskey or whisky? Is this important? It depends on whom you ask.

Generally, the two spellings can be used interchangeably when talking about the spirit. However, it is most commonly spelled with an “e” in the United States and Ireland, while Scotland and Canada like it better without the “e.” Since different types of whisky are made in both areas, the name you find on the bottle could tell you where it was produced and what type of grains were used in the process.

What Are the Different Types of Whiskey?

Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey has a long and sorted history, and while it was once a booming business, wars and prohibition dwindled the number of distilleries down to only two for a long time. Today, Irish whiskey is one of the most preferred types of whiskey because it is so smooth.

Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky is better known as just scotch. It is made in Scotland, and distillers must follow some serious laws and regulations while making it. People enjoy its deep smokey flavor, which is a result of the malt drying process. There are several types of scotch available on the market, including both single malts and blended.

Bourbon Whisky

Bourbon made its debut in Bourbon County, Kentucky, but is now made all over the United States. There are many restrictions governing which bottles the name Bourbon may appear on, and it is illegal to make it outside of the country. To receive this branding, a spirt must be made with at least 51% corn mash, it must be distilled at 160 proof or less, and must be aged a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels.

Tennessee whisky is similar to bourbon as it also requires a mash of 51% corn. However, it differs from bourbon because of its filtration process, which requires it to be filtered through maple charcoal. Due to its similarity, we merged the two together in the table below, but they are two distinct types.

Japanese Whisky

Japanese whisky is similar to scotch in taste and distilling methods. Japan opened its first distillery in 1924, and since then, it has graced the world with various fruit and floral flavors.

Canadian Whisky

Making some of the smoothest whiskies in the world, Canada has become a front runner in blended whisky production. People love the light, smooth flavors, and often use Canadian whisky in several cocktail recipes. This type of whisky will sometimes be labeled as rye whisky even if it does not contain any rye.

Rye Whisky

Rye whisky is made in America and resembles bourbon in its distillation process. Distilleries must follow strict guidelines when making rye whisky. For example, it must be made from a mash that is at least 51% rye, distilled to no more than 160 proof, and aged in charred oak barrels. Straight rye whisky must be aged for at least two years and not mixed with other spirits.

Other Whiskies

There are several other types of whisky available on the market today. These include wheat whiskies, blended whiskies, and single malt whiskies. However, these tend to be a bit of a wild card because they are either not as strictly regulated or the flavors vary quite a lot.

Quick Look—Whisky Types

Types of WhiskeyIngredientsTasteTypesPopular Brands
Irish WhiskeyUnmalted or malted barley and cereal grains—aged a minimum of three years.Smooth light taste with hints of fruit, grains, and rich oak.Blended Single Malt Single Pot Still Grain Single Grain PotcheenJameson Bushmills Connemara Green Spot Redbreast Knappogue Castle    
Scotch WhiskyScotch is typically made from water, malted barley, and yeast, but some blended whiskies will incorporate other cereal grains.Single malts are known for their sharp smoky tastes, while blended malts are more known for their buttery spice flavors.Single Malt Blended Malt Single Grain Blended Grain BlendedJohnny Walker Monkey Shoulder Laphroaig The Balvenie Drambuie Glenfiddich Clan McGregor
Bourbon WhiskeyA grain mash that is at least 51% corn, barley, rye, and sometimes wheat―aged at least two years.Bourbon is known for its sweet taste with hints of oak, vanilla, caramel, or cinnamon.Standard Kentucky Tennessee Straight Small-Batch/Single Barrel Sour Mash Blended High-Rye Wheated Bottled In BondKnob Creek Jack Daniels Jim Beam Wild Turkey Elijah Craig Four Roses Old Forester Makers Mark  
Japanese WhiskyMuch like scotch, Japanese whisky is made from a combination of barley, corn, and rye, which is then aged in oak barrels.Japanese whisky tastes quite a lot like scotch with hints of fruit and floral flavors.Single Malt Blended Single Grain Grain  Yamazaki Hibiki Hakushu Yoichi Miyahikyo Nikka
Canadian WhiskyCanadian whiskies are often made with corn or rye but are sometimes made with wheat or barley.Although similar to bourbon, Canadian whisky has a spicier taste and may have other fruity or sweet notes.Blended Single Malt Triple Distilled Rye WhiskyForty Creek Canadian Club JP Wiser’s Lot 40 Crown Royal Pike Creek Caribou Crossing Gooderham & Worts
Rye WhiskeyRye whiskies are made with a mixture of at least 51% rye, corn, wheat, and malted barley are also used.Rye whisky often has a grainy pepper taste with smoky hints of oak and fruit.Single Column Distilled Column than Pot Grain Single Grain  Old Forester Knob Creek Pikesville Wild Turkey E.H. Taylor Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

How To Serve Whisky?

Whether you are the type of person who likes to drink it straight from the bottle or prefers to sip it slowly after a long day at work, whisky can be enjoyed in many ways,

Neat/Straight:

You might have overheard someone at the bar ordering their drink “straight”, but what does that mean? Drinking whisky neat means drinking it on its own without any ice, water, or soda. This is typically done when you want to taste all the flavors of the spirit and certain glasses may enhance this experience. If your aim is to enjoy the flavor profile, drinking it at room temperature is best. However, this is not for everyone as the alcohol taste can often be overwhelming.

On the Rocks

No, the bartender is not pouring your drink through sand, but there may be stones involved. Enjoying a drink “on the rocks” means serving the spirit over ice (or whisky stones). The ice will melt and dilute the spirit to a more palatable flavor, although it will change the flavor profile a bit.

Cocktails

Mixing whisky into a cocktail is a trendy way to drink the spirit. Some of the more popular whisky-based cocktails include Manhattans, Whisky Sours, and Mint Julips. This is a fun way to enjoy the spirit for people who are less inclined to taste the alcohol or feel the burn.

Chilled

Drinking chilled whisky is an effective way to even out the alcohol aftertaste, and chilling it is a nice alternative to ice because it will not become watered down or diluted. Storing the bottle in a cool place, such as a basement, is best if you do not want to change the flavor too drastically. Otherwise, you can store it in the freezer or use whisky stones.

Warmed

Although some people like it cold, others like it hot—well, warm. Hot Toddy anyone? Warming the liquid will change its flavor as well, but it can be an enjoyable way to warm up on a chilly winter night.

With Water

Unlike ice, which dilutes the drink quite a lot, adding room temperature water is said to help release the natural flavors of the whisky. You only need to add a couple of drops of pure water (tap water may not be ideal depending on your location).

With Soda

Some call this “highballing”, we just call it mixing whisky with soda or other liquids. This is quite common in several parts of the world. For example, Americans will often add coke or lemonade to their spirits, while mixing whisky with tea is popular in Asian cultures.

Does Whisky Go Bad?

Unfortunately, yes, whisky can go bad. Although an unopened bottle that is stored in the proper conditions (upright in a cool environment away from light) can last almost indefinitely. That’s because, unlike wine and beer, distilled spirits do not spoil when left unopen.

Once you open your bottle, the clock begins to tick. However, opening it can be both good and bad. For example, some evaporation can make the whisky taste smoother. Contrarily, exposing the spirit to oxygen can cause it to oxidize, which can either make it taste better or worse.

The amount of air that is in the bottle will play a huge role in how long your whisky will keep:

  • More than half full = a few years.
  • Half-full = 1 to 2 years.
  • Less than half full = 3 to 4 months.

You can negate the effect of oxygen by transferring the drink to a smaller container.

If you know the spirit has been sitting for years (check the dust!) then it is a clever idea to approach it with caution. Do the following checks before drinking the alcohol:

  • Look – do you see signs of mold or other debris floating in the bottle? Has the color faded or changed?
  • Smell – does it smell off? Do you detect sour or metallic notes?
  • Taste – is it sour? Does it taste metallic or have a strange lingering aftertaste?

Conclusion

Whisky can be served both warmed and chilled, but experts agree that those who want to enjoy the spirit’s natural flavors should drink the spirit at temperatures between 60-65 degrees.

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John Cunningham

John is a writer, classic car and whiskey lover, men's shopping enthusiast and self appointed DIY expert. His greatest passion is repairing in the workshop, making old classics look and run like new again!

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