When I first began to take spirits seriously, I assumed that anyone serious about whiskey only drank whiskey neat. And because I very much wished to be taken seriously, I drank all my whiskey neat. The result? I drank a lot of whiskey, but didn’t enjoy myself nearly as much as I could have.
Any whiskey worth drinking is part of a long and refined tradition, produced by a master distiller and aged in barrels, at considerable expense, for many years. And sure, drinking whiskey neat (or with just a little bit of water) is far and away the best way to appreciate a whiskey’s aromas, its nuances and subtleties, its complexity. But that doesn’t mean that every time you pour yourself a glass it needs to become a ritual of careful nosing, small sips and deep thoughts. Most whiskey just doesn’t warrant that kind of investigation–not every novel is Moby Dick, and not every bottle is Bowmore 25. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. In my case, it means that I can drink it regularly without worrying about making the mortgage payment. And it also means that I’m probably going to drink it with ice, and maybe a considerable amount of water, too.
In all that’s been said and written about alcohol, too little has been about of the pleasure of drinking itself. Most commentary falls into one of two camps: revelry in intoxication, or treatises on gustation and olfaction. Occasionally my experience fits into one of those camps. Drinking with friends until the wee hours, unconcerned about the inevitable hangover, or sitting ponderously and sipping, trying to decode what’s in the glass in front of me. But most days, after work or after dinner, I just want a drink. Something I can enjoy while relaxing, or watching a movie, or reading a book, or having a conversation. Something I can sip and appreciate, but not have to think about it or worry about getting sauced. That’s why most nights you’ll find me with a whiskey and water. I get the flavor of whiskey, but with the ABV of a glass of wine. A couple pours last a couple hours, no pondering required and nobody’s worse for the wear in the morning.
Save your best bottles to really savor, but don’t be embarrassed to dilute your good ones. I usually end up with about 3 parts water to 1 part whiskey, but it’s not like I’m carefully measuring. That’s what I do all day at work.
Elijah Craig 12 or Buffalo Trace are great bourbon options, and Rittenhouse 100 proof or Bulliet Rye are good rye whiskey choices. My current favorite, though, is Old Weller Antique 107 bourbon. It’s quite good and usually available for under $25. And since the 107 refers to its proof, the water isn’t only practical, it’s prudent.
About our Bartender – Michael Bowers is the Head Bartender at the Modern Hotel and Bar in Boise, Idaho. His patrons know him for the uncanny precision with which he tends his bar. Michael’s cocktails have been noted by, among others, Food and Wine, Sunset Magazine, GQ, and the New York Times. See more in The Drink archive.