How Long Should I Be Taking to Drink a Glass of Whiskey?


We all know that whiskey shouldn’t be downed as quickly as possible, but you may be wondering exactly how long you should be taking to drink a glass of whiskey. While there’s no formal answer, after some research I would suggest the following:

How long should a person take to drink a glass whiskey? A reasonable amount of time to spend drinking a glass of good quality whiskey is 20 – 30 minutes. If it’s a particularly special or flavorful whiskey, then you may want to spend an hour drinking it. Cheap or low-quality whiskeys that you’re just drinking to become intoxicated as quickly as possible, can be drunk in one gulp.

There’s a good reason why one should take so long to drink a glass of whiskey and some logic in how I calculated this particular length of time.

Let me explain.

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A man taking his time drinking a glass of whiskey

Why Does It Take So Long to Drink a Glass of Whiskey?

The reason why it takes so long to drink a glass of whiskey is because whiskey contains a lot of flavors and drinking it as quickly as you’d drink a glass of water when thirsty would mean missing out on many if not most of them. It takes time for all a whiskey’s flavors to be released after being poured into a glass and for the drinker to detect them.

Let’s look at both of those factors:

Releasing the Flavors

Whiskey is usually aged for years or even decades to give it lots of different flavors. It also has anywhere between 40%ABV – 68%ABV and while that level of alcohol preserves the flavors, it also keeps them closed up. The alcohol also gets in the way of the flavors by numbing your nose and palate so that you can’t smell or taste the actual aromas and flavors of the whiskey.

Fortunately, there are a couple of things one can do to lower the effects of the alcohol and open up a whiskey’s flavors.

The first is to let the whiskey sit untouched anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. This allows air to get to the whiskey so it can start to evaporate a little, reducing the level of the alcohol and liberating all the whiskey’s flavors.

This happens because ethanol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, so the alcohol part of a whiskey will evaporate quicker than the water part. This means that evaporation causes the ABV of a whiskey to be reduced and the flavors to open.

Some argue that whiskey should be left sitting out one minute for every year of its age, but you can’t go wrong if you wait a little longer.

I did not include this time in my calculations for how long you should take to drink a glass of whiskey, because it’s not part of the actual drinking. With a little foresight and a bit of math you can pour yourself a glass of whiskey the appropriate amount of time before your ready to drink it.

A glass of whiskey left out

The second thing one can do to lower the effects of the alcohol and open up a whiskey’s flavors is to add water or ice.

Water dilutes the alcohol content of whiskey, again reducing its ABV and preventing the alcohol from numbing your nose and palate. With less alcohol the flavors will open up. Ice works slightly differently by reducing the heat of the whiskey and the burn of the alcohol, lessening its effects and once again letting the whiskey flavors open up.

Whatever you do to lower the effects of the alcohol and release the flavors of the whiskey it will add to the time it takes to drink it.

If you wait for air to get to the whiskey so that the alcohol can start evaporating, it will take some time before the flavors are fully released. If you add water, it will be quicker but since even one drop will change the taste of the whiskey, you may want to repeatedly add a drop and wait for the flavor change. If you add ice to your whiskey and follow all the changes caused by the ice melting into your drink, then that’s how long it will take to finish.

Detecting the Flavors

Not only does it take time for the flavors to be released it also takes time for you the drinker to detect them. You’re going to need to spend time smelling the whiskey first to detect all its aromas – because flavor is a combination of smell and taste, and even more time sipping the whiskey and tasting all its flavors. Even after you’ve swallowed the flavor of the whiskey may grow and expand. This is called the finish and it also needs time to be explored and savored.

This all takes time because there’s more to smelling and tasting than just smelling and tasting – if you see what I mean. You have to do it properly.

To smell your whiskey properly you have to put your nose into the glass and breathe in deeply but gently. You have to open your mouth slightly as you inhale to let the alcohol fumes escape and the whiskey aromas circulate round so you can better discern them. Since you’ll probably get an overpowering sense of alcohol the first time, you’ll need a second, third and fourth sniff which will reveal more of your whiskey as your nostrils get used to the strength of the alcohol.

You have to sniff using one nostril then the other. That’s because generally, one nostril is responsible for 80% of an inhalation while the other is obstructed. You won’t know which one is which because it alternates every two to three hours. So each nostril will perceive the aromas differently.

You also need to vary your rate of inhalation because some aromas are easier to detect when the flow of air is rapid while others are easier to detect when the flow of air is slower.

It’s important to examine every part of the glass because different aromas concentrate at different points. At the bottom you’ll find the heavier compounds with earthy, smoky, woody, aromas and higher up you’ll detect the spicy, malty and winey aromas. Towards the rim will be the lighter, fruity and floral aromas.

To taste your whiskey properly drink a little sip first, because just like the nose needs to get used to the alcohol so does the mouth. Once again, it will taste overwhelmingly of alcohol but with the second sip the whiskey will reveal its true characteristics.

Take another small sip but this time don’t swallow it yet. You need to chew your drink, holding it in your mouth and swirling it around, making sure it spreads throughout your mouth and covers all the surfaces of your tongue – the middle, the sides, the tip and the back, because different parts of your tongue respond to different flavors.

When you swallow take a deep breath and exhale deeply through your nose so that the aromatic molecules in your mouth go to the back of your throat and rise up into your sinuses. Do not take another sip yet. Wait until the taste comes back up and you can explore the finish.

With all this going on it’s no wonder it takes so long to drink a glass of whiskey.

Calculating How Long It Takes to Drink a Glass of Whiskey

Complicated math formula on blackboard

Now of course my suggested amount of time to take drinking a glass of whiskey is only an approximation and it will vary depending on the drinker and the drink, but I think it’s a good ballpark estimate. Here’s how I calculated it.

The standard pour for a neat glass of whiskey is 2 ounces. Although, when I pour myself a whiskey, I rarely measure this precisely so I assume my overestimation – as chances of underestimation are slim for obvious reasons, means that one of my glasses of whiskey will be (a little?) more than that.

Now I generally take between four and six sips per glass of whiskey. If you think that’s too many, I might be underestimating how much my overestimation of one of my glasses of whiskey is.

I might take a minute or two to detect the aromas, the same again to chew the whiskey and taste its flavors, and another minute exploring the finish, but it could take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the whiskey and how easily I’m able to identify the aromas and flavors.

This makes the length of time it takes to drink a glass of whiskey anywhere between 20 minutes (four sips taking five minutes each) and an hour (six sips taking ten minutes each).

Whether you agree with my calculations or not, the important thing is to take your time. You don’t have to take half an hour, 20 minutes, or even 10 minutes to drink a glass of whiskey. Just don’t drink it as quickly as you would a glass of water or you’ll miss out on all the flavors.

When Not to Take So Long Drinking a Glass of Whiskey

There are instances when you don’t need to take your time drinking a glass of whiskey. In fact, in those circumstances, it’s probably better if you drink the whiskey as quickly as possible.

If you’re drinking cheap or low-quality whiskey there will probably be little or no flavor to smell or taste, so there would be little point in spending any significant amount of time waiting for the flavors to open up or trying to detect them. In fact, such whiskeys are likely to taste bad so it would probably be better to drink them ASAP.

If you’re drinking whiskey to use its high ABV level to become intoxicated as quickly as possible, then again, a quick one or two second gulp will work fine. Actually, a quick one or two second gulp is the only way to drink a glass of whiskey and become intoxicated because if you take 20 – 30 minutes over it you’ll probably only become slightly tipsy.

Either way I would suggest not wasting your best whiskey on this.

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Josh Mitchell

I'm Josh Mitchell. I love whiskey and am working on increasing my whiskey tasting abilities and my collection.

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