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Spirits, neat or on ice?

A ‘neat’ spirit is simply a spirit with nothing added to it, at room temperature, in a glass. Whether you chose to drink your spirits neat, with ice or even a mixer however, is a matter of personal taste, though there are some general guidelines for best practice. Here is little more information about what happens to a spirit when you add water or ice to help you make the right decision for your tipple of choice.

Spirits: straight up

Before we talk about ice and water, let’s just highlight the difference between ‘neat’ and ‘straight-up’. While the definition above stands for ‘neat’, to order something ‘straight-up’, means that while it is not served with anything else, it has been chilled before pouring, possibly with ice before straining.

The best kinds of spirits to drink neat

The best spirits for drinking neat tend to be older and darker as they are more complex, having more to offer on the nose and palate, though some finely crafted, lighter-coloured spirits may also be good neat. Belvedere vodkas, especially the two Single Estate Rye vodkas for example, have nuances and characters that are fascinating to taste. Regardless of colour however, if a spirit is expensive, it can probably be assumed that is more to offer in the flavour stakes because of the way it has been made, aged or both.

On the rocks – ice in spirits

Adding ice to a spirit will soften the alcohol burn, but it will also mute aromas and flavours. This can be a shame with a beautifully aged single malt whisky or an artisan tequila as the taster will miss so much of the nuances that they are technically paying for. Ultimately though, this is a personal decision. You may want to give it a sip before you add the ice though, just to see if you really need it. Some cognacs or blended whiskies however, can shine a little brighter with the addition of a lump of ice or two. Some high quality, particularly aromatic gins can also benefit from a few shavings of ice as it tones down the sometimes very strong botanicals.

Iceberg ahoy!

There is a current trend for drinking spirits with giant, beautifully sculpted ice cubes. While these drinks can be things of beauty, there is science behind the sass: a larger ice cube’s exposed area will melt without diluting the drink as much as smaller cubes. The air around the ‘iceberg’ will also be cooled and sink into the glass, helping to keep the liquid at the bottom even cooler.


Even fine spirit aficionados sometimes like to add a drop or two of water to their spirit as it softens the alcohol, allowing the taster to pick up on subtler flavours, without muting anything by cooling it down. This works best with particularly high proof spirits of around 60% ABV or more. As with ice however, if you are drinking an expensive, aged spirit, maybe try it without water first to see how you prefer it.

Made for mixers

While adding water, ice or even mixers can be seen by some as sacrilege for fine and rare spirits, a lot of spirits have been made for just that purpose, so don’t feel bad about sloshing some tonic around. Do make sure that you are adding good quality, flavourful mixer to your drink though. When push comes to shove, you’re the one that’s tasting the drink so what you say, should always go. Chin chin!