Alright, let’s start by getting the usual PSA* out of the way: 

The ‘best’ way to drink whisky ultimately comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer to add a splash of water to open up the flavours, while others enjoy it on the rocks. Maybe you’re a whisky cocktail lover, or perhaps you think variety is the spice of life and want to drink whisky in all forms. All approaches are great and if they work for you, then they’re working full stop. Lovely.

Single malt whisky on an old wooden pole on a Scottish seashore

Whisky is a complex spirit that can be appreciated neat. Add a top location and you’re really laughing!

So why do people think whisky is best served neat?

Whisky is often considered best served neat for several reasons.

Flavour complexity: Serving whisky neat allows you to experience its full range of flavours and aromas. The complex profile of whisky sings without adulteration or adaptation. If your whisky is a peaty monster, the smoke will shine. If it’s rich and sweet, you’ll get every flavour of vanilla, caramel, oak, and fruit. If it’s a sherry bomb, you can really taste all the dried fruit and nutty goodness. Without any dilution or interference.

Aromatics: Neat whisky can offer a more intense aromatic experience. The compounds that contribute to the whisky’s nose and palate are not masked or muted by ice, water, or mixer.

Body and texture: The mouthfeel and texture of whisky are best experienced neat. Ice or water can alter the viscosity and perceived weight of the whisky on the palate.

Temperature: Neat whisky is served at room temperature, which is ideal for releasing its full range of flavours and aromas. Cold temperatures can suppress some of these characteristics, which is why some prefer it without ice.

Purity: Drinking whisky neat means consuming it in its purest form. This way, you can appreciate the whisky beyond its specific characteristics, to the craftsmanship of the distillers or blenders. 

Tradition: There is a traditional aspect to drinking whisky neat. Many whisky connoisseurs and aficionados prefer it this way to honour the heritage and craftsmanship involved in whisky making.

Ultimately it’s your whisky and you drink it how you like. But it’s always worth sampling a whisky neat to understand it best, particularly if it’s a whisky that’s new to you. 

*Public service announcement.