One of the biggest concerns people have when they order a drink at the bar is that they will look like newbies. People are worried that bartenders will take their lack of knowledge as an excuse to skimp on how much alcohol they serve or use it as a reason to serve lower-quality drinks. However, even if you’re not the biggest whisky drinker in the world, it’s still possible to order whisky like a pro at the bar.
Here’s how to order whiskey like a pro:
- Find out what whiskey brands & cocktails are available.
- Decide what type of whiskey you’re looking for.
- Choose how you want your whiskey served.
- Sit back and enjoy your whiskey.
In the rest of this article, I’ll explore each of these steps in further detail. Once you’re done with this article, you’ll be able to walk to any bar, order a glass of whisky, and have the bartender think you’ve been doing this for years!
1. Find Out What Whiskey Brands & Cocktails Are Available
Knowing how to order like a pro won’t help you out if you order a whiskey that’s not offered by the bar you’re at. Ask for a menu of available drinks, or speak to the bartender to find out what whiskeys are available.
Asking also has the advantage of letting you know what whisky cocktails are available, so if you choose to order a cocktail, you’ll have a list to choose from.
Additionally, a clear list of available drinks will allow you to determine if there’s something available that looks familiar, whether it’s something you’ve tried previously or have had recommended to you.
2. Decide What Type of Whiskey You’re Looking For
Once you have a list of available whiskeys and whisky cocktails, you’ll first need to decide which type of whisky you’re looking for. Depending on the selection at the bar in question, you may be able to skip this step – for example, if there’s only one option available, there’s no choice to make.
However, if there are several options, you’ll need to know the types of whiskeys available to you so you can make your decision. There are three major types of whiskeys, differentiated based on country of origin. These are:
- Irish Whiskey: Aged for at least 3 years, Irish whiskeys are best known for having a clean, smooth taste. They are generally distilled thrice, using unpeated malt. Along with Scotch whisky, it is the oldest type of whiskey.
- Scotch Whisky: Made in Scotland, Scotch whiskys are generally distilled twice and are aged for at least 3 years in charred oak barrels. They are made from malted, peated barley, resulting in a smoky flavor.
- American Whiskey: American whiskeys are generally made using cereal grain. There are several types of American whiskey. However, the most popular include bourbon whiskey (made with at least 51% corn) and rye whiskey (made with at least 51% rye). You may also find labels claiming a whiskey is a Tennessee whiskey (such as Jack Daniel’s), which means it has been filtered through sugar maple charcoal.
Of course, there are numerous other countries that produce whiskey (i.e. Japanese whiskey, Canadian whisky, etc.). However, these are the most common.
Another way to differentiate whiskey is based on how they are made. There are five such types of whiskeys:
- Single malt whiskey: Made from a single distillation and a single type of grain. This means that every kind of single malt has a distinct taste, and whiskey aficionados often have the preferred distillers based on how the single malts from that distillery taste.
- Blended malt whiskey: Several single malts from different distilleries combined in one drink.
- Blended whiskey: A combination of whiskeys. Unlike blended malts, blended whiskeys aren’t just limited to combining single malts, so you can combine blended malts with other blended malts to create a unique flavor.
- Single barrel: Whiskey sourced from a specific barrel within a single distillery. Limiting the bottling to a single barrel helps preserve the ‘flavor’ of the barrel, and whiskey fans often note that barrel ‘flavors’ can differ even within the same distillery.
- Cask strength: There’s no dilution involved with the drink – instead, it’s right from the wooden barrel the whiskey was aged in. This results in a drink that packs a much stronger punch than your average whiskey.
3. Choose How You Want Your Whiskey Served
Once you’ve decided what type of whiskey you’re looking for, the next step is to determine how you want it served. You can either choose to have the whiskey as part of a whiskey cocktail or drink it by itself.
There are two primary ways in which you drink whiskey “by itself”:
- Neat: Whiskey, at room temperature, without anything else (straight whiskey)
- On the Rocks: Whiskey served over ice
However, if you’re not keen on the strong hit of alcohol, you can always order it as part of a cocktail or with something else. Some terms you should know include:
- Whiskey with water: Exactly what it sounds like – it’s whiskey served with water
- Whiskey with a _____ back: Whiskey served with a chaser (another beverage) on the side. This allows you to control how you want to mix the drink, and you can choose how much whiskey you want to add to the other beverage.
If you’re looking for a mixed drink (i.e. a whiskey cocktail), some common options include:
- Whiskey Sour – Bourbon whiskey, sweet syrup, and lemon juice.
- Manhattan – Rye or Canadian whisky, vermouth, Angostura bitters, orange bitters, and a cherry.
- Old Fashioned – Sugar, Angostura bitters, water, bourbon, garnished with an orange peel.
- Mint Julep – Bourbon, mint leaves or syrup, lemon juice, and pour over ice.
- Highball – Whiskey, soda water, lemon, and ice.
- Whiskey Tonic – Irish whiskey, tonic water, and lemon.
One of the above drinks would be a great choice for your first foray into drinking whiskey!
When ordering a cocktail, make sure to specify which whiskey you want to be added to your drink. For example, if you want a Whiskey sour made with Jack Daniel’s, make sure to let your bartender know that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
Remember, aside from taste, the different whiskeys also generally have different prices in bars. So if you aren’t clear about what you’re looking for, you could be served a cocktail you dislike and also find yourself saddled with a bill that’s significantly higher than you expected.
4. Enjoy Your Whiskey
That’s basically it!
All you need to do now is sit back and enjoy your drink. Once you’re done with your drink, you can choose another whiskey to try out (or experiment with a new whiskey cocktail).
If you’re not sure what else you might like, feel free to ask your bartender for recommendations – bartenders usually have significant knowledge of the drinks that are available, and they’ll be more than happy to help you out however possible.
This is especially true if you’ve tipped well for your first drink!
If you’re still worried about ordering whisky, try looking for bars that offer whisky “flights” – that is, small tasters of different types of whiskeys. These will help you determine what your favorite whiskey is, so you don’t have to worry about going through a few large drinks before finding one you truly love.
Now you’re drinking whiskey like a pro!