Appreciating a fine spirit like whiskey can often take time to become accustomed to. Unfortunately for many, the burn experienced when initially trying a spirit like whiskey can be unpleasant and not something to repeat. Your palette can be trained to get past the burn and begin experiencing the wide set of flavors like oaks, sherries, vanillas, and many more that whiskey offers.
Keep reading to find out what causes whiskey to burn your throat and a few simple tips that may help you overcome it.
What Causes Whiskey Burn?
The burning sensation that you experience when you drink whiskey can be caused by different things. The main one is the presence of VR1 receptors in your mouth and throat. In simple terms, these are the delicate tissues lining your throat and mouth. These delicate tissues also have nerve cells, which serve an important role in alerting your brain whenever you drink or eat something that can burn or hurt your body. These nerve cells simply cause a burning sensation, deterring you from eating or drinking something that is dangerously hot.
So, whenever you drink whiskey, the VR1 receptors or nerve cells in your mouth and oesophagus will alert the brain. When the brain is alerted, it will encourage you either to stop drinking it or to drink some water to calm the burning sensation. Apart from drinking whiskey, you can also experience this burning sensation when you eat something that contains high concentrations of black pepper or other stinging spices.
Another reason why you may experience whiskey burn whenever you down a shot of whiskey is that the mucus membrane present in your mouth is highly sensitive to alcohol – especially the dehydrating effects of alcohol. When you drink whiskey with high concentrations of alcohol, it may lead to the drying up of that mucus membrane, resulting in a burning sensation in your mouth and throat. When this happens, you may crave water or another soft drink, in an attempt to rehydrate the mouth.
Does all whiskey cause a burn?
It’s important to note that all types of whiskey can cause this burning sensation, whether it’s Scotch whiskey, Irish whiskey, bourbon, Japanese, malt, or rye whiskey. However, the higher the concentration of alcohol, the greater the burning sensation. For instance, bourbon whiskey that has an alcohol content of approximately 60% will have a greater burning sensation, compared to Scotch whiskey that comes with an alcohol content of 40%.
Also, the quality of the whiskey will affect the burn. For example, finely aged or smooth whiskey will have a lower burning sensation, compared to hard liquors. But at the end of the day, most whiskey will burn your throat, regardless of the brand, alcohol content, or quality. Therefore, you need to find ways of reducing or mitigating that burn, so that you can focus on the flavors and aromas. Fortunately, we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you and identified some means of reducing whiskey burn.
Tips and Tricks to Reduce Whiskey Burn
1. Exhale before you drink
When your pour whiskey into your glass, you should not drink it immediately. Instead, you should exhale deeply before you take a sip. When you inhale as you drink, the alcohol vapors will hit the nerves and mucus membranes of the nasal passage, thus causing a burning sensation. But when you exhale first, you will completely avoid this situation and reduce the fiery sensation. To do this, you should first exhale a bit, sip your whiskey and then leave some air in your lungs. After you swallow the whiskey, you should then exhale the rest of the air. With this approach, you may start to notice and enjoy the flavors and aromas present in your whiskey.
2. Chill your drink:
Alcohol connoisseurs will tell you that whiskey should be enjoyed at room temperature if you want to bring out its unique taste and flavor. On the other hand, chilling your whiskey for approximately 2 hours before you start drinking it, will help to reduce the stinging sensation. And the good news is that alcohol, unlike other liquids, doesn’t freeze. Therefore, you could keep your whiskey in your deep freezer – however, that is not recommended! You will probably find it much easier and enjoyable to drink chilled whiskey compared to one that is at room temperature since the chill of the drink really helps.
3. Chase it with fruit juice:
Most whiskey enthusiasts will tell you that you should drink whiskey neat so that you can fully enjoy its taste, flavor, and aromas. However, drinking it neat may also lead to whiskey burn, thus the need to use a chaser. And fruit juice is one of the best chasers that you can use with your whiskey. So, the next time you are drinking whiskey, make sure you have a glass of fruit juice. You can experiment with different types of fruit juices and then choose the one that suits your tastes and flavors. However, it’s highly advisable to avoid strong juices such as grape juice, since it might completely destroy the drink’s natural flavors and aromas.
4. Drink your whiskey with soda:
Apart from using fruit juices, sodas can also help to reduce the tingly sensation that whiskey causes in your throat. Furthermore, drinking whiskey with caffeine-free sodas can also help to reduce hangover symptoms. Ginger ale and sprite are good options since they can work with almost all types of whiskey.
5. Use club soda:
Club soda is also a good option when it comes to minimizing whiskey burn. Unlike fruit juices or sprite, club soda will not add any sweetness to your whiskey. Also, it will not add too many extra calories, compared to soft drinks like Coca-Cola. Furthermore, you will experience fewer hangover symptoms if you use club soda since it doesn’t have sugar.
6. Take smaller sips:
Instead of swallowing large gulps of bourbon, scotch, or Irish whiskey, you should take small sips. When you sip your whiskey, hold it on your tongue and then spread it around the mouth. When you do this, you will appreciate the flavors better, compared to swallowing it right away. Also, taking small sips means less alcohol in your mouth, which translates to a lesser burning sensation. Besides, whiskey is meant to be relaxing and enjoyable. Why should you drink it in a hurry?
7. Suck on lime wedges as you drink:
You have probably seen people sucking on lime wedges as they drink liquor. Well, the citrus juice present in lime can help to alleviate the tingling sensation from a shot of whiskey. And most bars offer them for no additional cost.
8. Sip on a chaser before taking shots:
When you drink neat whiskey, its taste can be overwhelming in your mouth. Fortunately, you can further reduce this tingling sensation by sipping the chaser before you sip the whiskey. When you do this, you will be washing away the drink’s taste while also minimizing the burn.
Cutting the whiskey can also help to reduce whiskey burn. You can achieve it using different approaches, without destroying the drink’s tastes and flavors. One, you can mix your whiskey with a small amount of water. Adding fresh water to the whiskey will dilute it, thus helping to reduce the burn. You can then add some club soda or ginger ale to give your drink additional flavor.
Second, add some ice cubes into your whiskey. Dropping some ice cubes into your glass of whiskey can also help to reduce whiskey burn. As the ice cubes melt, they will cool down the drink and make it smoother while the additional water will dilute it and reduce the burn. Two ice cubes per glass of whiskey should be enough to help reduce the burn.
Third, make a whiskey cocktail. If you want to reduce whiskey burn and mask its taste, then a whiskey cocktail is the way to go. And when you get the blending right, you will get a drink that you can enjoy with your friends over dinner or barbecue. The trick is to know how to combine the different liquids. There are hundreds of whiskey cocktails online that you can try out. You just need to play around with the ingredients until you create something that appeals to your taste buds.
Fourth, mix whiskey with mineral water. Instead of using ordinary water, you should instead mix your whiskey with mineral water. Apart from helping to reduce the burn, mineral water will also help to retain the drink’s natural flavors. Tonic water works great with whiskey.
Most whiskies will likely burn your throat, regardless of the quality, brand, or price paid. But as you can see, there are some methods you can experiment with to try and reduce the burning sensation. I’m sure with time, you will eventually identify a strategy that works best for you, to ensure you enjoy and can taste the deep flavors of whiskey, without having to deal with a burning throat!
Any tips? Leave us a comment on how you overcome whiskey burn