A Beginner’s Intro to Whiskey

a beginners intro to whiskey header image

So you’re in the mood for whiskey? This classic staple comes in many different forms, making it a little intimidating to order at the bar if you don’t really know where to begin.

We’re here to help! With a world of whiskey out there, it’s important to have a basic foundation of the range of flavor profiles and ways in which whiskey is often served to help you decide what’s best for you. Before we get into whiskey recommendations, it’s good to have a basic understanding of its origins as whiskey distillation is a craft that is hundreds of years in the making.

A (very) quick history of whiskey

It is argued that the art of distillation actually originated around 2000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia as a way to produce perfumes and other aromatics. Fast forward to around 1000 AD, the process of distillation made its way from the European mainland into Ireland and Scotland. The monasteries located there began fermenting grain mash (a mix of typically malted barley with supplemental grains like corn, wheat or rye as well as water) resulting in the first distillations of what we know as modern whisky. At this time, however, it was mostly used for medicinal purposes and was not allowed to age as it is today, so it likely tasted brutally potent.

This harsh flavor continued as the drink made its way overseas into America where it was often made in illegal stills during the Prohibition era and commonly referred to as “moonshine”. Over time, the art of making whisky evolved to where it is today, where it is aged in wooden barrels making it a much smoother drink with more unique and complex flavors. Distilleries can now control the taste of their Whiskey depending on the type of wood used to make the cask and the duration of time it is allowed to age.

Want to dive a little deeper? Check out this article for a more extensive timeline of whiskey.

How do I figure out what type of whiskey to order?

First things first, take a look at what’s available at the bar. Check out a menu or just scan the display on the back of the bar (this is where they keep the good stuff). Maybe you’ll see something you know you like, or maybe something that you’ve heard recommended by a friend. This is a great starting point.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Having a dialogue with your bartender is a great way to get a better idea of what whiskey drink you’ll enjoy the most. A good bartender knows their craft and will be happy to share their knowledge with someone who is genuinely looking to learn something new. That being said, it’s not always ideal to strike up a conversation with bar staff when it’s a full house, so be aware of the environment around you. If it’s too busy or you’re too nervous, no worries, we’re here to provide basic whiskey recommendations to get you started.

Common ways whiskey is served

Here’s a quick list of commonly used lingo when ordering whiskey at the bar

  • Neat: This means just straight whiskey: no ice, no water, no garnishes
  • On the rocks: Just the whiskey served over ice
  • With a twist: Includes a thin strip of citrus peel, usually orange
  • Served up: This is usually used for Manhattan’s or other whiskey-based cocktails, meaning the drink is stirred or shaken with ice and then strained into a chilled glass
  • With Water: Is the flavor too strong for you? You can order your whiskey with water to partially dilute the potency and improve the taste to your liking.
  • With a chaser: This is common to order with a shot of whiskey, choose a chaser of a soda or juice that you’d like to drink immediately after taking the shot to calm your taste buds.
  • Short: A term used to specify when you want less mix in your drink when ordering a double
  • Dram: Okay, this one is a little more niche, but this is the traditional term for a glass of Scottish whiskey

What kind of whiskey is right for me?

Okay, now this is the fun part! We’ve made this handy flow chart of whiskey recommendations to help you decide which drink is best for you.

whiskey recommendations flow chart

Obviously this is not the end all be all whiskey recommendations, but we hope it’s a step in the right direction to help you feel more comfortable ordering next time you’re at the bar. Of course, don’t be afraid to ask your bartender (Or us! feel free to reach out or comment here) for a more personalized drink.

If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by The Sherwood and say hello. We think you’ll enjoy our specialty Tin Cup Whiskey Punch but if that’s not what you’re in the mood for then check out our full menu. We hope to see you soon!

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