by Hillary Zio (@hillaryzio)
Just like wine, there are several ways to maximize your drinking enjoyment with spirits. While preferences will vary by taster, consider these factors before imbibing on your favorite libations.
The temperature: Cocktails and mixed drinks aside, many spirits are best enjoyed neat, but some people prefer a few cubes of ice. Enjoying whiskey or brandy neat (at room temperature, rather than ice cold) can help to bring out the flavors and nuances. This is also true for top-shelf tequila and vodka. If room-temp booze is not your thing, try using a large ice cube tray. Large cubes or balls will take longer to melt, as not to dilute the spirit. Fine libations are best enjoyed slowly, so it’s advantageous to maintain a temperature that’s ideal for you.
The glass: As far as glassware, some styles will work better than others, but it’s not necessary to purchase every shape and size. I recommend a coupe, martini glass, and rocks glass to enjoy every type of liquor. The coupe is especially useful, as the stem prohibits your hands from warming the glass with your body temperature. Martini glasses are perfect for gin, as the wide mouth allows for optimal air exposure, allowing you to smell and taste all of those complex botanicals.
The decanter: Just like wine, decanting and aerating spirits open up their aromas, resulting in a much more pleasant tasting experience. As alcohol is being poured, it takes in oxygen, allowing the unique aromas and flavors to shine. Unlike wine however, separating the sediment is not an issue for spirits and you never need a strainer or candle when decanting.
If using a standard decanter, it’s best to fill it no more than three quarters full. This allows for proper aeration and presentation of the liquor. I’m personally not a fan of storing spirits in fancy decanters on your bar cart, because they tend to lose flavor over time. For example, if you are decanting whiskey, be mindful that it may lose its quality if left in a decanter for longer than about one week.
If you’re short on time, the Wake Up Wine significantly reduces your wait to aerate after decanting. I like to set the timer to three minutes for rum and whisky. This takes the edge off the alcohol burn and allows other flavors like nuts, citrus and flowers to shine through. I also like to put fine tequila and mezcal in my Wake Up Wine for two minutes, to reduce the spicy and smoky aromas a bit. Brandy is also an excellent spirit to decant, as the liquor is distilled from grapes and tends to act tight and restrained like wine after just being opened. Brandies such as Cognac and Armagnac are aged in oak, and quite often the vanilla, cinnamon and cocoa aromas overpower some of the more complex notes that can arise after just four minutes on the Wake Up Wine.