How to Drink Virginia Rye Whiskey

It’s no secret that many drinkers' first run-in with rye whiskey is at a party or a dive bar, often presented in the form of a shot that’s chased with whatever soda is nearby. And as such, they probably weren’t even aware that they were drinking rye. Most people hear whiskey as a catchall term and view it as a quick path to getting a buzz, but if you’re looking to enjoy it, we’re here to inform you that’s just not the way.

For those that have learned the boozer’s approach to drinking whiskey, you have to first unlearn what you know. Rye whiskey is a drink that’s meant for sipping. It’s meant for those who have an attention to detail. Good knowledge on how to drink whiskey could help you elevate your next meal, get the conversation flowing, or simply provide you with a cocktail that you enjoy. So grab a glass and a bottle. You’re going to need them to learn the fundamentals behind how to drink whiskey.

How to Order Rye Whiskey

When it comes to immersing yourself in the world of rye whiskey, you’ll find that every bottle has its own story, flavors, and experience. However, Virginia rye whiskey is a style that’s entirely unique, distinguished with hints of oak on the nose, tamed bites of peppercorn, and a kiss of sweetness that envelops your senses as you swish it across your palate. 


Ask the Bartender

There are many ways to drink whiskey, but when you first walk up to the bar, it shouldn’t be to immediately ask for a drink. Greet the bartender and ask them about their selection of rye. If you have a flavor preference or a favorite pour, share that knowledge with the bartender. They may have exactly what you’re looking for or they may be able to make a recommendation. Visiting a bar is always a good opportunity to broaden your palate by trying new rye whiskey cocktails or brands you’ve yet to sample.

Choose a Straight Rye

Deciding which spirit to go with can also be a choice between regular rye and straight rye whiskey, a type of whiskey that meets all of the requirements of regular rye with further aging involved in the distillation process. Straight rye whiskey must be aged at least 2 years, but if it’s aged less than 4 years the bottle must carry an age statement. It also includes no added food colorings, flavorings, or additional spirits. In short, straight rye is a purer, more mature sipping experience for the whiskey enthusiast.


As genuine of a whiskey sipping experience as you can get, ordering your whiskey neat means a pour at room temperature. You’ll taste the full warmth, aroma, and flavor of your whiskey while sipping it neat. Some whiskey purists also believe that adding a drop or two of water after an initial nosing and tasting can help enhance the flavor profile of your rye whiskey by opening it up, and science actually backs this claim! Researchers found a compound known as guaiacol that’s linked to the smoky taste of whiskey. When diluted with water, it was found to be more present at the surface of the spirit, contributing to a better smell and taste. However, with less water present, guaiacol was found deeper in the body of the whiskey (The Guardian).

On the Rocks

A straight 2 oz pour of whiskey over ice, typically in the shape of one large cube. Drinkers may find this one of the best ways to drink whiskey because it allows the pure flavors and aromas to open up as the ice melts, while simultaneously diluting the burn. 

With a Twist

Ask for your whiskey with a twist if you want it garnished with a strip of citrus peel on the rim, and add a nice aromatic to your sip.

Take a Shot

We’ll admit, this is our least favorite way to enjoy a rye whiskey because it doesn’t allow you to savor the drink. It’s all about chucking it back as fast as possible and getting your buzz on. The time and place for a shot is usually in a party-like atmosphere, but for the imbiber looking to settle down and enjoy themselves, we highly recommend you avoid shooting back your rye.

Chaser or Back

A chaser typically is what often follows a shot, as the burn following a quick gulp of rye whiskey is often unpleasant. However, whiskey isn’t meant for shooting, so if you’re going to do it you might as well prepare. One of our favorite chasers is a pickle back to quickly neutralize the spice bomb you just swallowed.

Ask for a Dram

A dram of whiskey refers to the traditional Scottish glass of whiskey, 1/8th a fluid ounce. While it’s a very small volume of whiskey, it dates back to when the spirit was a luxury. 

Today, drinkers commonly receive a standard pour of 1 ounce, and we believe it’s the perfect amount for tasting a wide variety in one sitting.

How to Drink Whiskey

There are many ways to drink whiskey, but you may find your method of imbibing changes depending on a range of factors like occasion, location, and your particular taste that day.

Choosing Glassware

If you’re someone who enjoys drinking at home, growing your collection of glassware can go a long way in improving your overall experience. However, choosing a glass can drastically depend on what you’re pouring such as rye whiskey neat, on the rocks, or as a cocktail. For starters, we recommend every collection have a glencairn whiskey glass, rocks glass, and a highball glass to go with each of the aforementioned drinks.

Nosing the Whiskey

Say you order your whiskey neat or on the rocks. If you’re not sure how to drink rye whiskey, you may skip this step altogether and go straight for an initial sip. But before you do, swirl the whiskey around your glass to release the aromas then gently bring it to your nose. Lightly inhale and take note of the smells that linger. 

Sip & Chew

Take a small sip of whiskey and roll it around your mouth. Allow it to coat your tongue and the inside of your cheeks. As you give your palate a moment to acclimate to the taste of rye whiskey, notice the flavors and mouthfeel that arise on different areas of your tongue. For example, our Roundstone Rye has notes of caramel, butter toffee, fruit and nuts, giving off a bright woody taste in every sip.

Noticing the Finish

After you swallow, notice the sensation that lingers on your tongue until it fades away. Pay attention to the changes it undergoes and how long it lasts. A drink with a smooth finish may “go down easy.” However, you may also find your spirit of choice leaves you with cottonmouth, and that’s often associated with a drier finish.

Know Your Classic Rye Whiskey Cocktails

When visiting the bar or crafting a cocktail in the comfort of your home, having a few classic rye whiskey cocktails in your repertoire will serve to greatly impress and make the occasion that much more pleasant. Every experienced whiskey lover should at least know how to make a Rye Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, and a Sazerac for easy libations that are quick to satisfy.

Drink for the Occasion

Virginia rye whiskey can be excellent for sipping, but it can also be your spirit of choice for a range of delicious cocktails. At Catoctin Creek, we recommend letting the occasion guide your choice. Puffing on a cigar? We recommend ordering your glass of rye whiskey on the rocks. What if you’re at a soureé? Maybe a cocktail is more your speed. Read our seasonal guide to drinking rye whiskey to discover a great list of cocktails to choose based on the time of year.

Grow Your Home Collection of Virginia Whiskey

There’s no better way to become an experienced drinker than by growing your own collection of whiskey at home. Virginia rye whiskey provides a unique tasting experience that starts with a bottle. For imbibers that are new to the scene of rye whiskey, we recommend starting off with a bottle like the Roundstone Rye, but experienced whiskey connoisseurs may find our Cask Proof bottle to be an indulgence worthy of your glass. Find more great Virginia whiskeys to stock your shelves by reading our blog, “The Best Whiskeys Available in Virginia.”

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Catoctin Creek Distillery
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