How to Order a Whisk(e)y at a Bar

Ordering a whisk(e)y at a bar isn’t as daunting as one typically anticipates. It’s only as disturbing an experience as you allow yourself to think. Regardless, before I delve too deep into the power of mind what whatnot, based on my personal encounters, and of others, the discomfort of ordering a whisk(e)y at a bar usually stems from:

  • The lack of practice and or the know-how of not ordering one. For example, say you just became of age to officially qualify for drinking.
  • Going to an overly fancy bar, and believing that some level of knowledge, vocabulary, sophistication, etc., is required.

Here’s the attribute of ordering whisk(e)y at a bar that many tend to forget: All of the understanding about liquor, its associated terms, technical comprehension, etc., is required so that you can get the drink the way you imagine it would be. In other words, knowing how to order a whisk(e)y at a bar is to help you; not the contrary of what others or the bartender may think about you — which shouldn’t matter anyway.

After all, you are paying for your drink, so in my opinion, there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

In any case, the following is what you should know, again, to help yourself. (Totally okay, if you do not).

Everyday Things to Know Before Ordering a Whisk(e)y

  1. What is a neat whisk(e)y: Many disagree, but whisk(e)y is often best enjoyed neat. Sure, you may not be used to that level of strong-ness, so to speak, but to truly discern the taste profiles, drink it neat.
whisky tulip shaped glass
A tulip shaped Whisky Glass. Photo Credit: Noe TCHAGASPANIAN
  1. What is an “on the rocks” drink: Plainly put, on the rocks means with ice. So say you get your drink on the rocks. It’s translated into your choice of whisk(e)y + ice.
  2. What is “with a chaser” (also known as a back): Examples of chasers include water, soda, juice, similar. Say for instance, you wanted your scotch with coke. You’d simply ask, can I get a Black Label with a coke back? Note that adding the word back will often result in you getting your chaser in a separate glass.
  3. Ask what’s available to be served: If you have an idea of some of the whiskies or whiskeys worldwide, a simple question of what’s available will already solve a lot of your headaches. In fact, it may not be a bad idea to start here, as that will inform you of the playing field.
  4. How old/aged would be your drink: Typically, if you just say, give me this or that whiskey, by default, in all likelihood, your bartender will serve you with the most common one. Or to the opposite, may end up serving you a whisk(e)y that may be aged longer, and hence more expensive. To avoid this situation, specify how aged you want your drink to be. For example, a 12 year Glenlivet.
  5. Be a human being: Don’t be rude, don’t get super impatient. Some bars are busier than others. So here’s one more scenario where knowing what you want helps you; otherwise, you’ll have to wait more. Nevertheless, rudeness will not get you anywhere.
  6. What is a “straight up” drink”: Almost similar to a neat drink, a straight up drink is first shaken or stirred with ice. And then, it’s filtered through a strainer — the end result being just the drink itself without any water, soda, mixer, chaser, ice, etc.
  7. How many ounces is a “shot of Whisk(e)y”: In the U.S., it could vary between 1.25 – 1.5 Fluid Ounces. When you say give me a double shot, it’s exactly that: Twice the amount of a single shot.

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To Finish Up

Ordering whisk(e)y at a bar takes practice. You may get it wrong once or twice, but you learn from your mistakes, as they say.

As a matter of fact, all the bartenders I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with are kind and understanding to the lack of your proficiency.

Seriously, just never be rude to the them!

And as I’ve mentioned, the focus shouldn’t be on if others think you lack the required skill set; it should be on self-learning so that you can get a more pleasant experience the next time you’re hitting your favorite spot.

Oh wait, did I say favorite? Trust me, you’ll have yours once you get the hang of it!