Do I Drink My Whisky Neat or On the Rocks?

We talked with a Westchester bartender to settle this age-old question, and get suggested food pairings


Not that we personally advocate for neat, but it is true there are no ice cubes in this photo.

Photo: Dmitry Ersler/Fotolia

Telling people how to consume their alcohol is usually treacherous territory, especially when it comes to whisky. However, since Westchester Magazine’s annual The Macallan: Super Premium Whisky Tasting is right around the corner, we decided it imperative to revive the age-old debate: “neat or on the rocks?”

Now if you’re saying to yourself, “It’s a matter of preference,” it ultimately is. If you want to go mixing your Glenlivet Nàdurra with a can of Diet Coke, go right ahead (just don’t make us watch). Yet, if you’ve splurged on a bottle of single malt Scotch, you’re probably doing so for its complex flavor profile, which, according to Rye Grill & Bar bartender Elizabeth Moyher, becomes dull with the addition of ice.

“It depends on how serious of a whisky drinker you are,” explains Moyher. (Unrelated, it's worth checking out the flavorful low-calorie Key Lime Vodka Mojito recipe Moyher contributed to our magazine a few years back.) “If someone’s going for the top-shelf stuff, they’re most likely going to order it neat.”

The fact is, ice numbs the tongue and melts quickly, leaving you with a rather expensive glass of watered-down whisky. On the other hand, many a whisky drinker acknowledges that introducing precisely a single drop of water will open up the drink’s flavor, while decreasing much of the alcohol’s bite. Moyher says whisky aficionados tend to resort to this method, but warns that “too much water will just dilute the flavor."

If you do ultimately prefer your brown spirits buoyed by frozen water, Moyher recommends ordering a decent blend like Johnnie Walker or Famous Grouse, or an Irish whiskey a la Jameson. Moyher finds nothing wrong with this approach when “hanging at the bar with friends” or pairing one's pour with a meal. To that end, the thinking typically aligns with that of wine, i.e. a heavier whisky works better with a heavily flavored dish. For example, Moyher finds that customers enjoy how Chivas Regal 25’s rich profile complements the taste of a buttery, seared steak. However, be wary of matching food and drink flavors: A smoky whisky alongside a smoked salmon may prove too much.

Overall, Moyher's insight suggests that “neat” is for the serious drinker who wants the most out of a whisky or Scotch’s flavors, where “on the rocks” is more appropriate for a refreshing, social option. And both choices have their place at the dinner table. Sounds like a win-win to us. 


For any more of your whisky-related inquiries, we recommend speaking to the Macallan brand ambassador at our tasting later this week, so your friends can think you know what you’re talking about for once.



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