World Whisky Day Is Tomorrow: Here’s How To Drink Whisky Like A Pro

How to elevate your whisky drinking game, whether you're a whisky lover or first-time drinker.

World Whisky Day Is Tomorrow: Here’s How To Drink Whisky Like A Pro

Image: Diageo

With World Whisky Day just around the corner, we spoke with one of the world’s best bartenders and whisky experts to get the inside scoop on how to drink whisky properly – whether you’re a total whisky novice or an experienced dark spirits deviant.

Every year, the third Saturday of May marks one of my favourite days on the calendar, World Whisky Day: a one-day celebration of all things dark and delicious. 2023’s World Whisky Day is set to be one of the biggest and most exciting in recent memory, too, with whisky really having a moment right now – especially among younger drinkers.

I think the really special thing about whisky is that there’s always something new to taste or learn. It’s such a complex spirit and there are so many whiskies out there that your journey of exploration never ends – and that’s an exciting prospect. Even seasoned whisky drinkers have plenty to learn and experiment with.

But it’s true that whisky can sometimes be an intimidating drink to those not familiar with it… And even whisky experts know they can always improve their drinking experience.

That’s why we picked the brains of Tim Philips-Johansson – Aussie master bartender, cocktail maker, founder of Bulletin Place (a four-time Australian Cocktail Bar of the Year and five-time World’s Best 50 Bars entrant) and Johnnie Walker’s global brand ambassador – to get his pro tips on how to elevate your whisky drinking game.

Tim Philips-Johansson, Johnnie Walker Global Ambassador. Image: Diageo

The time of day

Whisky tends to be thought of more as a nighttime drink – with the stereotype being that it’s something you sip on late at night, lounging in an armchair by a roaring fire… But Tim’s first pro tip is that the taste of whisky can vary wildly depending on what time of day you drink it.

“The flavour of whisky can change depending on a variety of things: the time of day, what you have eaten or drunk previously and even mood all play into your taste perception,” he explains.

“Great whiskies will trigger different flavour notes every time you drink them, so I’d encourage the exploration of a specific whisky multiple times, as the experience you had the first time might not be the same as the time after.”

Tim Philips-Johansson

Your mood and inner emotional state can indeed have a huge influence on how you taste whisky. We recently wrote about how there’s a lot of scientific research that suggests that even the music you listen to when you drink whisky can alter and improve your drinking experience.

Use your nose

According to the Stanford University School of Medicine, 80% of what we taste is dependent on olfaction – that is, smell.

The nose knows when it comes to whisky. Image: Getty

“The olfactory that relates to what we smell is far more developed than what we can taste. Use your nose to guide yourself through the flavour characteristics offered by the whisky,” Tim suggests.

However, you need to be careful when smelling whisky: alcohol is a powerful solvent that can irritate your body’s mucous membranes, especially those in your nose and throat.

“If you breathe in too close and too deeply, the vaporised alcohol can burn your schnoz,”  Tristram Lilburne-Fini, expert mixologist and Glen Grant brand ambassador explains, which can damage your olfactories and compromise your sense of taste. It’s a common rookie error and not one you want to make – especially if you’re tasting multiple whiskies at once.

Instead, Tristram recommends holding the glass about 20cm from your nose, and breathing in with both your nose and your mouth, keeping your mouth open as you do. That way, you’re still getting to smell the whisky, without damaging your nose. It might look a little silly at first, keeping your mouth open as you raise a glass to your nose, but trust us – it’s a gamechanger.

The addition of water can radically change the way a whisky tastes. Image: Getty

Water makes everything better

While there’s nothing wrong with sipping on whisky neat, whisky can be absolutely transformed by the addition of water. Indeed, a 2017 study by chemists from Linnæus University in Sweden found that, simply put, “adding water to whisky should make it taste better.”

Essentially, when you add water to whisky, it interacts with ethanol – the major component of whisky – and guaiacol, a compound that comes from the casks used to mature whisky that has a characteristically sweet, smoky flavour. More of the guaiacol makes its way into the air, bringing with it the whisky’s aromas and therefore flavours (remember – 80% of taste is smell…)

“All of the blenders at Diageo reduce spirits down with about the same amount of water to whisky you have poured,” Tim reveals.

“Adding water to your whisky helps decipher more subtle characteristics, as well as untwine heavier flavours like smoke.”

Tim Philips-Johansson
Don’t let people tell you that drinking whisky on the rocks is wrong. Image: Diageo

That’s why it’s totally fine to drink whisky on the rocks, by the way: as the ice dissolves, more water gets added to the whisky, which can change and improve its flavour. Also, the colder whisky is, the thicker it gets, and the smoother and more velvety it tastes. So don’t listen to people who say you can’t have whisky on the rocks.

A really classy way to drink whisky is to order it neat but with a chaser of water. That way, you can control how much water you add to your whisky – sometimes, all you need is a few drops to change its flavour. It’s also a way to stay hydrated. Responsible service of alcohol and all that.

Texture is key

“Take note of the ‘legs’ a whisky leaves when you swirl the glass for the first time,” Tim advises.

“One of the most appealing characteristics of some Scotch is the texture; a tasty result of fatty and oily congeners being left behind in the final blend,” he gives by way of an example.

WATCH comedian Trevor Wallace poke fun at some of the stereotypes around whisk(e)y drinkers below.

Most importantly, have fun

People get intimidated by whisky as they see it as this complex drink that’s couched in all these rules and rituals… But actually, as Tim puts it, “whisky is for everyone.”

“One person’s ‘dark plum’ is another’s ‘autumnal fig’. Flavour notes are subjective, so have fun with them… Get creative as there are no wrong answers.”

Tim Philips-Johansson

On that note, Slàinte Mhath and have a great World Whisky Day.