We Asked 8 Master Distillers: How Do You Take Your Whiskey?
Ever wonder how the people who make your favorite whiskeys drink their own products? Us, too. The folks who develop our favorite spirits often have the best recommendations for how to enjoy them, so if you assume that every distiller in the game drinks their favorite liquor neat, you’d be wrong.
We asked eight distillers to tell us how they like to take their whiskey, and the answers might surprise you. The takeaway? There’s no one correct way to drink your favorite whiskey, and you should never be ashamed to like what you like.
How distillers take their whiskey:
- In a highball
- On the rocks
- Whiskey Sour
- Maple Old Fashioned
- Mixed with lemonade
- With one small ice cube
“I do not have any set rules about how I drink my whiskey, but I do try to match what I am drinking to how I drink it — I prefer our older straight rye whiskey neat or perhaps over one large cube, but I love our younger rye whiskey over ice, in a highball, or in a cocktail. Rye whiskey is such a great base for cocktails; it is always fun to get creative and mix up something new.” —Herman C. Mihalich, founder and distiller, Dad’s Hat Whiskey, Bristol, Pa.
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“When it comes to drinking whiskey, I lean a bit purist. While I will happily enjoy a highball or a whiskey-forward cocktail, it almost doesn’t feel like I’m drinking whiskey. I go neat in general, preferably in a glass that has decent volume and a taper to the opening, like a Glencairn, brandy glass, or a smaller wine glass if that’s what’s available.” —Jared Himstedt, head distiller, Balcones Distilling, Waco, Texas
“I really focus on enjoying my whiskey, which can mean different things depending on my mood. If I really want to get to know a whiskey, I will nose it neat, in a Glencairn. If I am drinking more casually, I will drink my whiskey on the rocks. If I’m just looking to relax, I’ll make myself a highball or an Old Fashioned. I typically make my Old Fashioneds with orange bitters and the most convenient form of liquid sugar available at home, which is usually maple syrup. The less seriously I take drinking the whiskey, the more I tend to enjoy it.” —Max Pfeffer; distiller, president, and director of operations, Manatawny Still Works, Pottstown, Pa.
“It is a long-running joke among my colleagues and friends that whenever I am asked what my favorite cocktail is, I say, ‘Oh, it’s a Whiskey Rob,’ which is a pour of whiskey three fingers high (a distillers pour!), on ice, in a rocks glass. That’s it; that’s my complex cocktail. I also tend to gravitate towards cask-strength expressions. I love drinking whiskey in its purest form; unfiltered, uncut, and born straight from the barrel. I recommend the same three fingers high pour, but with a splash of water (filtered, if you can get it) to open it up a little. Best savored with a little vinyl record music or some authentically rebellious friends, or a solid combination of the two.” —Rob Dietrich, master distiller, BLACKENED Whiskey, Mineville, N.Y.
“As a cocktail fanatic there are a few key details I consider. Aside from what the key grain is in the mash bill, I like to focus on proof. I always start neat. If a whiskey is below 100 proof and I have never had it before, I will also make a straightforward Sour so I can see how it might mix with other ingredients. How does the whiskey come through when it plays with others? If I am considering overproof to cask strength, I will coat my tongue and gums to try to evaluate the full flavor and texture of the whiskey but will more than likely add an ice cube or two to settle in and enjoy it.” —Allen Katz, distiller and owner, New York Distilling Company, Brooklyn
“You can’t go wrong with a Maple Old Fashioned, a nod to a classic Old Fashioned with a twist, subbing a sugar cube for WhistlePig’s Barrel Aged Maple Syrup for a perfectly balanced cocktail. For a non-cocktail moment, I prefer my whiskey poured over a 2-by-2-inch ice cube for a slow melt.” —Meghan Ireland, chief blender, WhistlePig Whiskey, Shoreham, Vt.
“It depends on the bourbon and proof, but for Brough Brothers, I mix it with lemonade. For higher proof, straight with a splash of water to release the aroma and flavor.” —Bryson Yarbrough, master distiller, Brough Brothers Distillery, Louisville, Ky.
“I prefer to have a small ice cube melt into the bourbon to bring the proof down slightly. A slight reduction in proof uncovers softer, more nuanced flavors that might otherwise be dominated by a higher proof.” —David DeFazio, founder, Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyo.
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