How to Order Whiskey at a Bar

Whiksey bottles and a cocktail on a bar


Scotch Whisky, Irish whiskey, bourbon, rye, drams, juice, shots and pours — there sure are a lot of terms used in the world of Whiskey!

There are also hundreds of different whiskey brands, styles, and ways to serve your favorite whiskey.

All of this terminology can make the process of ordering a whiskey at a bar slightly daunting for an inexperienced whiskey drinker.

  • What type of whiskey would you like the best?
  • Should you get it with ice or without?
  • Would it be frowned upon to put it in a cocktail?
  • Should you get a dram or a shot?

This post will share a simple process that will help you get past the complexities of ordering whiskey and find a drink that you love.

1. Start By Asking What Is Available

The average bar will have several different whiskeys available in various styles. However, if the bar specializes in whiskey, they may have dozens in stock.

You will be able to see most of these whiskeys on the shelves in front of you, but there may be some that are hidden behind the counter or in another location.

The best way to discover what is actually available is by asking the bartender.

Depending on the size of the bar, they may rattle off the names of three or four whiskeys, or hand you a menu with the names of dozens of whiskeys printed on it.

Menus are handy because they often tell you what style a whiskey is, which makes it easier to find something that you would probably enjoy.

A selection of whiskies

2. Choose a Whiskey Type

Next, you will have to choose the type of whiskey you would like to drink. There are several styles of whiskey, with the most common being:

  • Scotch Whisky
    Made in Scotland. Typically made from malted barley or grain, double distilled, and aged in oak casks. It has a powerful flavor that is earthy and smokey. Often rich in vanilla and various fruits. The higher quality Scotch whiskies are usually best enjoyed with a dash of water.
  • Irish Whiskey
    Made in Ireland. Made from yeast-fermented grain mash or using a mash of malted cereals. Usually triple distilled and aged for three years in a wooden cask. It has a light, clean and smooth flavor compared to Scotch. Often quite delicate with a flowery aroma.
  • Bourbon Whiskey
    Made in the United States. Made from a mash that consists of 51% or more corn and aged in charred oak casks. It has a very sweet and smokey taste. Often consumed straight or mixed with cola.
  • Tennessee Whiskey
    The same as Bourbon but it must be made in Tennessee. The other major difference is that the whiskey is filtered through or steeped in charcoal before going into the barrels for aging. This process gives the whiskey a cleaner flavor.
  • Rye Whiskey
    Usually made in North American. Made from a mash that is at least 51% rye. It has a fruity and spicy flavor, making it ideal for cocktails.
  • Japanese Whiskey
    The Japanese are expert whiskey makers. They usually produce whiskeys from double malted or seated barley. They tend to be drier and smokier than Scotch whiskies.
  • Malt Whiskey
    Made from a mash that is at least 51% malted barley. Similar in flavor to Scotch whisky.
  • Wheat Whiskey
    Made from a mash that is at least 51% wheat. It has a sweet flavor.

Aside from the origin, some whiskies have several variations. For example, Scotch whisky can be:

  • Single malt (100% malt whisky with malt from one distillery)
  • Blended malt (100% malt whisky which has malt from multiple distilleries)
  • Blended whiskies (a combination of malt and grain whiskies blended together)
  • Cask strength (bottled from the cask undiluted, at a very high strength)
  • Single cask (the bottle was poured from one cask)

These variations will affect the flavor of the spirit and are worth considering when choosing between different whiskeys.

Some whiskeys will also specify an age, which is how long it has been aged in the barrel. For example, Glenfiddich offers a 12-year-old, 15 year old, and 23-year-old single malt Scotch whisky (among others). Some bars will have bottles of different ages, so if you want an older bottle, which is typically nicer but more expensive, you will need to specify it.

It can take some time to decide which style of whiskey you prefer, but that journey is a fun part of the whiskey-learning process. Read some of the reviews on our website to find whiskeys that have the flavors you like to taste in your drinks.

3. Choose how you want to drink it

After you have decided upon a whiskey, you will need to close how you want to drink it. The most common ways to serve whiskey are:

“Neat” or “Straight”

Neat means the whiskey by itself in a glass. This is a great option for the sweeter whiskeys and high-quality Scotch/Irish/Japanese whiskeys. Choose this option when you really want to taste the whiskey in its pure, undiluted form.

When ordering a neat whiskey, you can specify how much whiskey is added to the glass. By default, it will be a single shot of whiskey, but you can specify a “Double” or “Triple” to get a larger drink.

Example: If you were ordering a Glenfiddich neat, you would say: “Glenfiddich neat, thanks”. In most cases, this would get you the most affordable drop of Glenfiddich on the shelves (12 year old). If you wanted to try a specific age, you could say:

“15 year old Glenfiddich neat, thanks”


A shot of whiskey is straight whiskey poured into a shot glass. It can either be sipped from the glass or consumed in one go.

Most people will only drink cheaper whiskeys this way, as the drink cannot be savoured as easily.

Example: To order a shot of Jack Daniels, you would say:

“A shot of Jack Daniels, thanks”.

“On The Rocks”

On the rocks is one of the most common ways for whiskey to be served. It means the whiskey is served with ice cubes.

The reason why people often drink their whiskey On The Rocks is that the chilling effect of the ice can reduce the flavor of alcohol in the drink.

As the ice cubes melt, they also begin to dilute the whiskey, which can further improve its flavour and aroma.

The only problem with ordering whiskey on the rocks is that the dilution of your whiskey continues to change as the ice melts.

It can go past the “sweet spot” where the whiskey tastes fantastic and become over-diluted — with an excessive amount of water reducing the whiskey’s flavor too much.

Example: To order Monkey Shoulder on the rocks, you would say:

“Monkey Shoulder on the rocks, thanks”.

“Whiskey With a … Back” or “Whiskey with a … Chaser”

Whiskey with a “Back” is a nicer way of saying you want a second glass holding another beverage. A Back can also be called “Chaser”.

You will need to specify the kind of back you would like with your whiskey. So, if you wanted a water back with your 15-year-old Glenlivet, you would order a:

“15 year old Glenlivet Neat with a Water back”.

The bartender would present you with two glasses. One with some Glenlivet straight and a second glass with water in it. This is a useful approach if you want to add some water to your whiskey to get it into that “sweet spot” where the alcohol is no longer overpowering the subtle flavors in the spirit.

“A Dram Of Whiskey”

A Dram is the traditional Scottish name for a glass of Whiskey. If you request a Dram of Whiskey, many bars will place your whiskey in a nosing glass, which has a narrow top that focusses on the aromas of the whiskey. To order a dram of 18-year-old Glengoyne, you would simply say:

“A dram of 18-year-old Glengoyne, thanks”.

“Whiskey and …”

If you want to mix your whiskey, simply say whiskey and the mixer name. For example, to order a Jack Daniels and Coke, you would say “Jack Daniels and Coke, thanks”. It doesn’t get much simpler than that!

Whiskey Cocktails

A girl drinking a whiskey cocktail

There are dozens of whiskey cocktails available. They include the Whiskey Sour, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Mint Julep, and Spiked Southern Tea.

The flavors of these cocktails can vary greatly, so you will eventually find one that you absolutely love. When ordering a whiskey cocktail, simply tell the bartender the name of the cocktail you are interested in drinking.

With a Twist”

With a twist simply means adding a thin strip of citrus peel to the edge of the glass. This can help to accentuate some of the flavors in your whiskey.

A related option is “with a Lemon/Lime”, which will add a lemon or lime wedge to the side of the glass.

4. Try Your Whiskey 

Finally, the good part — actually drinking your whiskey.

Take your time and savor the flavor and aroma of your drink.

Do you like it?

If not, try another whiskey or have it in a different way. Remember that experimentation is half the fun.

Talk to your bartender and ask them for advice on what to try next. They will help you find a whiskey drink that you love.