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A guide to drinking whisky for the first time

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If you’ve never tried whisky, you’re in for a treat. The smooth, sweet and spiced spirit is a real game changer once you know how to drink it. 

For some, the world of whisky can seem intimidating. But we don’t see why. No matter what people say, there’s no wrong way to drink whisky. Whether for the first or hundredth time. If you enjoy it, then it works. 

If you’re completely new around here, make sure to check out our beginner’s guide to how to drink whisky as well as a rundown of the different types of whisky glasses and how to order scotch in a bar.

How you start drinking whisky for the first time is up to you. Some prefer going straight in with a dram to taste every note, whilst others prefer a whisky on the rocks to lessen the burn. If that’s not your style, try mixing things up with a classic cocktail or simple whisky highball

However you do it, here’s a few tips to drinking whisky for the first time.

Pick a good bottle

If you’re going to enter the world of whisky, you want to do it right. And doing it right means sipping a good spirit. We’re talking one that’s creamy, golden and goes down smooth. There’s plenty of different types of whisky from across the world. Each of which have their own signature flavour profiles, from spiced rye to super sweet bourbon. 

But here at Ballantine’s, we’re all about Scotland’s original spirit. Made from malted barley, scotch is a complex spirit that can range in flavour from smoky and peaty to fruity and floral. No two are the same, so it’s a good idea to sample a few blends before picking your favourite.

We recommend starting with Ballantine’s Finest, our original, award-winning blended scotch that’s stayed true to its recipe since 1910. Soft notes of heather honey blend with a hint of spice and floral finish to keep things perfectly balanced.

Cleanse your palette

Keep a glass of water on the side to cleanse your palate before and whilst you drink whisky. This makes sure no lingering flavours of your last snack or drink affect the taste. Doing so will also keep you hydrated.

Give it a sniff

Before we get sipping, we recommend giving your whisky a good sniff. This is an important stage of learning how to taste whisky, as it’ll help you pinpoint the blend’s individual notes, as well as any others you pick up on. Gently smell the liquid from just above the top of the glass to experience its aromas.

Taste the whisky neat

Feel free to drink whisky however you like. But if you want to get a taste for the blend’s individual notes before you get mixing, it’s best to sip it neat first. This is particularly true for aged whiskies such as Ballantine’s 30 Year Old. This rich, deep fruity scotch deserves a sip straight up.

Sip it, don’t shoot it

We don’t write rules for drinking whisky. If you want to share shots of whisky among friends, go for it. But if this is your first time drinking whisky in a way you can appreciate the flavour, it’s best to sip it slowly. Especially if you’ve got an older blend that’s made for special occasions.

Inhale and keep cool

If this is the first time you’re drinking whisky, you’re probably going to feel the burn, whether you dilute or not. This warming sensation is something we love about whisky. But it can surprise you on your first sip. 

If the fiery finish isn’t your cup of tea, take a deep breath and a sip of water. We don’t want you coughing over your dram.

Add water or ice to your whisky

Adding a few drops of water or cubes of ice to your glass can help you to taste the whisky without feeling the burn. Doing so slowly dilutes the alcoholic content, giving you a smoother drinking experience. You might also notice more subtle flavours like vanilla, red apple and dried fruits. Find out more about how water and whisky work together.

Order your whisky ‘on the rocks’ or slowly add a splash of water. We recommend sipping before and after so you can notice the difference.

Try a whisky cocktail

End or start here, we don’t mind. A cocktail is a great way to experience your first taste of whisky, especially whilst out and about. And there’s plenty to choose from.

Whisky cocktails come in all shapes, sizes and flavours. From simple mixers to complex classics. So you really can be picky according to what you usually like.

For cocktails that put whisky at the front and centre, try original recipes like an Old Fashioned or Whisky Sour. These drinks add just a few ingredients to elevate the whisky’s sweet, smooth notes, with complementary citrus to keep things light.

Or try a whisky mixer like scotch and lemonade, whisky and ginger ale or a whisky tonic. You can mix almost anything with whisky from your favourite fruit juices to sparkling sodas.

We’ve also got a bunch of fun cocktail recipes for every occasion. Spend summer sessions drinking our Apple Cider Slushie and Frozen Hugo Spritz. Or keep warm with a Hot Honey Sour and Peanut Butter Hot Toddy.

Last up, why not try a whisky take on your favourite cocktail? A simple swap to scotch is the perfect way to see how it changes your go-to order (and makes it even better). Try a Kentucky Mule, Whisky Espresso Martini or Brooklyn Mary.

There’s endless ways to drink whisky. And you’re only just beginning. What could be better?

Discover more ideas on how to drink Ballantine’s including mixing whisky and beer, variations of the classic Negroni and the best fruity whisky drinks.

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