Whiskey For Dummies: How To Order Whiskey Like a Pro

Whiskey – it’s a manly man’s drink.

But there’s so much people don’t understand about it. It has its own vocabulary and if you’ve ever ordered a Jack and Coke and had an old fella with a beard scoff at you, you’re left feeling exposed and confused, not knowing what you did wrong.

Well, we’re here to help! Whiskey for Dummies gives you everything you need to know about whiskey to order like a pro and talk about the drink of legend like you’ve been drinking it for years.

What Makes Whiskey “Whiskey”

By definition, whiskey is an alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grains and aged in wooden casks or barrels. But that’s just the basics. Before you go to the bar and order a shot, pretending like you know what you’re doing, take a moment to learn the different kinds of whiskey, because, believe me, the bartender’s going to ask you.


  • Bourbon is an American whiskey, typically made in Kentucky. It doesn’t have to be distilled in the Bluegrass State, but it does have to be made within the United States to be considered Bourbon.
  • Bourbon’s mash must have at least 51 percent corn in its composition and must be aged at least two years in charcoaled virgin barrels. It ranges from 80 to 101 proof and has a sweeter, oaky flavor when compared to other whiskeys.
  • Popular brands of bourbon include Wild Turkey and Maker’s Mark. If you’re going to make a bourbon cocktail, consider a Manhattan on an Old Fashioned.

Tennessee Whiskey.

  • Can you guess where this stuff is made? If you guessed Tennessee, you’ve got it. Like bourbon, Tennessee whiskey is made primarily of corn mash, and is aged in charcoaled barrels.
  • The difference is before Tennessee Whiskey gets put into casks, it must be filtered through maple charcoal. This gives it a mellow and smooth finish and makes it a favorite in American bars and honky-tonks.
  • If you’re looking to try a good Tennessee whiskey, Jack Daniels is the one to choose; it’s America’s most popular by far. And if you think you need to mix it up before you shoot it down, try a Whiskey Sour or a Jack and Coke.

Rye Whiskey.

  • The last American whiskey on our list, rye whiskey is primarily made from, you guessed it, rye, with at least 50 percent of its mash consisting of the grain.
  • Like rye, this whiskey has a specific flavor that makes it a little rougher and spicier.
  • If you’re looking to try a rye whiskey, consider Jim Beam or Van Winkle Family Reserve.


  • Scotch is a malt whiskey that spends at least three years in a barrel and is made in Scotland. If you’re buddy shows up with some German scotch, you know he’s full of s**t, because this spirit can only be called scotch if it comes from the hills of the highlands.
  • The longer the scotch sits in its casks, the better it gets. Its smoky flavor intensifies and hints of woodsy and floral earth become apparent.
  • The only appropriate way to drink scotch is by itself, or perhaps with a bit of ice. Don’t mix it; there are no exceptions to this rule.
  • A fantastic scotch to start out with would be either Glenfiddich or Macallan; although you really can’t go wrong with any decent scotch!

Irish Whiskey.

  • Thought to be the offspring of original whiskey, this Irish spirit is triple distilled after sitting in wooden casts for three years. It must be made in Ireland and is the most popular kind of whiskey.
  • It tends to be light and extra smooth, due to the lack of peat in its mash. It’s made in closed ovens and never exposed to smoke, so it lacks the smoky flavor found in some whiskeys, like scotch.
  • If you’d like to try an exceptional Irish whiskey, start with Jameson or Bushmills. Add a little to your coffee or try an Irish Car Bomb cocktail; you won’t be sorry!

Canadian Whiskey.

  • Made in Canada, Canadian whiskey is the number one imported spirit into the U.S. The actual composition of Canadian whiskey is hard to determine, because each bottle and brand is made of a blend of liquors based on corn and grain mash.
  • Canadian whiskey is a lighter whiskey, and much smoother than most with an almost fruity and caramel flavor.
  • For starters, try Crown Royal or Canadian Club, straight up or mixed with ginger ale.

Single Malt, Single Barrel, Blended, or Straight

Keep reading, there’s still a lot to learn and it’s about to get a little more confusing.

Single Malt Whiskey.

  • A single malt whiskey is a whiskey that uses only one malt throughout the distilling process. It can be either a single barrel whiskey or a blended whiskey, as long as only one malt was used. A single malt whiskey is always a straight whiskey.

Single Barrel Whiskey.

  • Single Barrel Whiskey is a whiskey that comes from the same barrel or cask. It may be single malt, or it may not, but it can never be a blended whiskey. A single barrel whiskey is always a straight whiskey.

Blended Whiskey.

  • A blended whiskey is a combination of different malts and barrels, sometimes from the same distillery, sometimes from different distilleries. A blended whiskey can be single malt or a straight whiskey, but it is never a single barrel whiskey. Blended whiskeys are popular because they have a more consistent taste than other whiskeys. By blending a variety of different casks, the flavor tends to be balanced and creates a smoother, lighter flavor.

Straight Whiskey.

  • An American classification, a straight whiskey is one that the majority of the mash has to be a single grain, whether it’s rye, corn, barley, or something else, there has to have more of one grain than another.

How to Order Whiskey

Now the fun part!

There are many whiskey snobs out there who believe the only way to drink whiskey is by itself. These people spend their time sitting at the end of a bar, poking fun of those who order whiskey in mixed drinks. Typically they’re alone.

Don’t worry about these people. They’re assholes anyway. But there is some truth to what they say.

Here’s the breakdown on how to order whiskey:


  • The real snobs of the whiskey world say this is the only way to drink whiskey. It’s nothing but whiskey in the glass and it’s at room temperature. It’s meant to be sipped, but can make you cough and gag if you’re not prepared. The first time you drink a new whiskey, try it neat. It’s the way it was meant to be drank and gives you a true taste of the spirit.

On the Rocks.

  • Whiskey on the rocks is simply whiskey over ice. It cools the liquor and makes it go down easier. Some say it locks it the flavor, but many say it’s easier to drink and easier to enjoy.


  • If you tell the barmaid you want a whiskey, but ask her to “cut it,” you’re asking for her to put some water in it. Adding water to whiskey doesn’t make you a sissy, and some may even say it makes you a connoisseur. Just a few drops of water changes the chemical composition of the beverage and weakens the surface tension. This allows light flavors buried in the beverage to escape and many say it even “opens up” the whiskey’s flavor.

How to Drink Whiskey

Like a fine wine, a good whiskey should be savored and experienced by the senses. This helps you learn the characteristics of each brand and lets you decide which is right for you.

Whiskey Glass.

  • If you plan on becoming a regular whiskey drinker, you should maybe consider purchasing a glencairn, or tulip-shaped glass. This glass’s shape is specifically designed to keep the aroma of the whiskey bouquet in the glass so you can enjoy it. If you don’t have any of these specialty glasses, that’s fine, but try to keep the beverage in a glass tumbler. Other materials tend to change the flavor of some whiskeys, and you can’t get a true sense of its distinct taste.

Swirl It.

  • Like a wine, when you swirl your whiskey in its glass, it releases some of the hidden jewels of its flavoring. Also, by smelling whiskey before you drink it, you’re increasing the flavor you receive. The true flavor of the spirit is a combination of smell and taste and they should be enjoyed together.

Don’t Just Swallow.

  • Once you’re accustomed to the flavor of whiskey, don’t just shoot it down. Instead, let it sit in your mouth a moment; maybe even give it a slosh or two before swallowing. While it’s sitting on your tongue, look for the different flavors that arise. These could range from sweet or spicy to hints of vanilla, wood, fruit, or smoke.

Start Light.

  • If you’re new to drinking whiskey, start with the light ones and work your way to the darker, more intense flavors. This gets you accustomed to the flavor and allows your palate to develop. Start with a Canadian whiskey, then move on to Irish. Once you have a taste for these, try American whiskey, and then finish up with scotch.

So that’s pretty much what you need to know about whiskey; the different styles, the terminology, and the different ways to drink it.

Now you’re ready to head out and get your buzz on!

What kind of whiskey are you going to start with?

 Additional image: Whiskey and Women



Molly Carter
Molly Carter
Molly is a freelance writer who talks about everything and anything from addiction, to sex. to skinning a deer. You can find her at MollyCarterWriter.com, or Facebook.