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Should I Drink Bourbon with Ice or...

Posted by Colonel Bourbon on

Should I drink bourbon with ice or with a splash or two of water... or "neat" (straight)...?

The quick answer is: however you like it. There is no right or wrong way.

Having said that, we'll dive a little deeper, to give you some things to consider:

Should i drink bourbon with ice or...

Drink it "neat"

The whiskey is poured straight into the glass, room temperature with nothing else. Normally, the bartender will pour an ounce or two in a tumbler glass.

A "finger" of whiskey is approximately equal to an ounce of alcohol -- you measure by placing your finger horizontally against the glass.

If you're not used to this, you might be disappointed by the "small" amount of the whiskey the bartender gives you. "There's barely anything in the glass," you might think. But that's because you see your friends drinking Jack and Cokes, vodka martinis, beers, and assorted mixed drinks. The "neat" glass is a shot of whiskey. The advantage is you are tasting the bourbon as it is; wth its inherent nose and taste, as it was meant to be. That could be a disadvantage btw: a "lesser" whiskey/whisky might benefit from some ice, water, or it could be best used in a cocktail.

Suggestion: You can start by trying it neat, and then adding ice and/or water based on taste.

Here was a friendly debate between two of Colonel Bourbon's drinking buddies.

JIM: "Rocks and water changes the flavor profile that the master distiller intended.

JACK: "Rocks and water can open up the flavors, Jim. In fact, whiskey "dulls" the taste buds, being alcohol, you know.

JIM: Well, Jack, chilling your bourbon slows down evaporation and messes up the aroma profile...

This debate can go on and on. Call them the Neat Miser and Ice Miser ; )

Drink it on the rocks

A few ice cubes, depending on your preference. If you like your brown liquor chilled, "on the rocks" is the way to go (don't put the bottle in the freezer, as you would vodka; the increased viscosity dulls the flavor of whiskey). The chief disadvantage with ice is that the ice melts and dilutes the whiskey, which could be good or bad, in terms of whether it takes away from the flavor, or adds to it, or even lessens an unfavorable taste 

Entirely subject to preference but one of our other bourbon buddies goes by the following: If it's a good whiskey, drink it neat, if it's less so, drink it on the rocks or with the splash of water.

Consider using large cubes, which melt slower. Or use whiskey stones, nifty things you freeze and drop into your drink.

Bourbon on the rocks, whiskey stones

(Consider using large ice cubes, which melt slower. Or use whiskey stones, nifty things pictured here that you freeze and drop into your drink.)

Suggestion: One friend drinks neat during winter and with ice in the summer.

Another: "I drink neat in restaurants and bars, to make sure I get what I ordered, but I prefer some rocks at home, where I know what I'm drinking."

With water

Water can change the flavor or a bourbon or other whiskey. It is referred to as "opening up" the flavor, or "cutting it." If you want to read up on some of the science, look here.

Suggestion: Maybe try the smallest of spashes -- i.e , a teaspoon or even a few drops -- to see if it changes the nose or flavor in a way you like. Especially on higher proof whiskeys. Some feel it "mellows" the pour of 110/125+ proof. Also, as one wag offers, "It's easier to get up in the morning."

Drink it mixed or in a cocktail

This really is a whole different category, where you are not drinking bourbon for the bourbon but as the alcohol base for something else, or so they say.

Often, this method has been suggested for those who want to start with less alcohol. The most famous bourbon cocktail is the Old Fashioned. We have an entire article in the Colonel Bourbon Blog (click on the following recipe headline) about this cocktail. But to summarize:

Don Draper's Old Fashioned Recipe

  • In shaker, add ice, 2 ounces of bourbon or rye whiskey, 1 1/2 ounces of club soda and stir.
  • In a rocks glass/ lowball, add one sugar cube and four dashes of Angostura bitters.
  • Muddle (gently mash to release the juices)
  • Place ice in the glass, with the muddled/mashed sugar cube and bitters.
  • Pour shaker into the glass
  • Add orange slice.

 (Scene from the Mad Men TV Series, when Don Draper mixes two Old Fashioneds for "Conrad "Connie" Hilton and himself.)

How Frank Sinatra drank it

First of all, Old Blue Eyes was known for his Jack Daniels, which the distiller considers a Tennessee whiskey. There has always been a debate -- or perhaps a discussion -- as to whether JD or Daniels, as Sinatra referred to it, can be, or should be, called a bourbon.

From our blog article

"In the chapter on booze, we learn specifically how he liked his 'gasoline': Always three or four ice cubes, two fingers of Jack Daniel's, the rest water, in a traditional rocks glass.

He liked to let it sit for a while, "he wanted to let the flavors blend."

He was not a fan of drinking water in general, however. He'd say that "fish f***k" in water.  So no water back for him (a separate glass of water.)


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