The Effects and Benefits of Letting your Whiskey Breathe

A common practise when drinking wine is to allow it to breathe for a while to let the taste open up. A wine can get so many new flavors and aromas. When I first heard about this, I wondered whether this was the same for whiskey. I did my research and found the answer. Should whiskey breathe before drinking it?

No, it is not necessary to let your whiskey breathe before drinking. Allowing your whiskey to sit in the glass for a few minutes could help open up some of the aromas of the whiskey that are initially hidden behind the ethanol fumes and alcohol burn.

These subtle things you can do to change the flavor of the whiskey make it such an interesting drink. There is so much to learn, like why we could choose to let our whiskey breathe or whether or not to aerate the entire whiskey bottle. The rest of the page will cover all you need to know about letting your whiskey breathe.

Why let your whiskey breathe before drinking

Allowing whiskey to breathe as a corrective or to make it drinkable is definitely not necessary. However, allowing the whiskey to breathe could improve your tasting experience and open up new flavors and notes you did not experience in the same whiskey before.

There are a lot of people that recommend to let your whiskey breathe in your glass one minute per year it has been in a cask. Older whiskeys should be allowed to breath longer than younger whiskeys, but why is this? What does it do for your experience.

Technically there are two things that are happening at the same time when letting a glass of whiskey breathe. Alcohol from the whiskey is evaporating, making some notes on the nose more accessible. The palate of the whiskey could also change to become a little less harsh, reducing the alcohol burn of the whiskey. Allowing whiskey to breathe can really allow it to open up in new ways.

The other thing that happens to your whiskey is that the water is evaporating. While one can not deny this is happening, it is not likely that a significant part of the water will evaporate in the couple of minutes you let your glass sit. Therefore this does not really affect the taste.

While letting the whiskey sit will not have a massive effect on the Alcohol By Volume (ABV), the whiskey will become a little less overpowering. For many people it has helped improve their whiskey experience, and above all that is what matters most.

Drink whiskey the way you like it, after all it is your whiskey and about your experience.

Alcoholism concept. Glass tumbler with whiskey and ice next to a black clock.

How long to let whiskey breathe

A common guide that I would advice you is to let your glass of whiskey breathe one minute for every year the whiskey has been in the cask. If you have a 12 year old Scotch whisky, let it sit for about 12 minutes. Taking a sip every minute or so can be an enjoyable experience. If breathing has a significant effect on the specific whiskey you are drinking, it might taste different every time you take a sip. Of course these differences will be very subtle, and can be complex to find.

Try tasting it when you just poured it and compare this to the taste after letting it rest to see if you notice a difference, and see if you enjoy the whiskey better.

While the taste of the whiskey will most likely change after allowing it to rest, it is hard to notice the change. I have to admit I don’t notice the effect of letting my whiskey breathe on the flavor all the times. There are instances when the whiskey seems to taste the same to me. But of course I am only a novice whiskey drinker and am still developing my ability to taste the subtle flavor differences in whiskey.

Should you aerate whiskey

Never let the entire bottle of whiskey breathe. Whenever you expose a whole bottle of whiskey to air it is called aeration, and this is not necessary and not advised for whiskey. Unlike wine, it is best to store the bottle of whiskey with as little air as possible.

Oxidation is what happens when the whiskey in the bottle interacts with the oxygen and changes the flavor of the whiskey. Many people have described oxidised whiskey as nothing but a shadow of its former glory. The taste of the whiskey is influenced by the contact with air and this is almost always for the worse. I have written an article on whether whiskey in a bottle goes bad over time. The short answer is no, but the long answer is crucial to know for all whiskey drinkers. You can check it out here if you want to read more.

I would even recommend that you pour the whiskey from the big bottle into smaller glass airtight bottles whenever you drank more than 50% of the whiskey.

Every time you drink some of your whiskey, the amount of “overhead” air (the remaining air in the bottle to which the whiskey is always exposed) will increase. Therefore, the whiskey will be exposed to more air and oxidise quicker. Pouring it in a smaller container can reduce oxidation and reduce the change of flavor.

glasses of single malt whiskey on a wooden table with the silhouette of a bottle of whiskey.

How to drink whiskey without the familiar burn

If you are a new whiskey drink, trying cask strength whiskey or find the burn of the alcohol too prominent in most whiskeys you have tried, you are not alone. Most whiskeys are around 40% ABV, and those 80 proof drinks are not to be messed with. To some extend, the burn will always be a part of drinking whiskey. There are some ways to significantly reduce it though, so give these tips a try!

1. Add some water

Adding some clean, fresh water to your whiskey to tone down the proof of the whiskey is a great way to make your whiskey experience more enjoyable. Of course you can add as much water as you like, but starting with just a couple of drops will work wonders.

Whenever you do this, make sure that you are adding water of which you are comfortable to drink. The water should be odourless and flavorless. It will dilute your whiskey to reduce some of the initial alcohol burn and open up a lot of different flavors and aromas that are now more accessible due to the reduced ABV.

2. Do this for your first sip

The first sip will sting the most, after which the burn will decrease. At your first sip, coat your tong and the rest of your mouth with the alcohol. Swallow it and take a deep breath. You will feel the burn, but it will slowly decrease. Whenever you take another sip now, your mouth will be better prepared for the alcohol and the whiskey will be broken up to flavors and notes rather than a burn.

3. Let the glass breathe

Yes, this entire article is about letting your whiskey breathe, but it is effective in this context as well. Whiskey contains alcohol, which is volatile. When exposed to air the alcohol will dissipate, reducing the burn.

The burn will never truly go away, it will just not take centre stage anymore.

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