It’s inevitable, but one day you’ll end up with a bottle of awful tasting whiskey. The most probable causes of this are purchase error, or well-meaning but now better educated friends. In such instances it is of course quite simple to pour that whiskey away, serve it to guests or re-gift it to a third person who don’t know any better, but if you know how to make bad whiskey taste good then you won’t have to waste any of this precious drink.
Now you may argue that however easy it is to salvage a bad tasting whiskey, it’s even easier to just chuck the damn thing away, and you’d be right. But some people feel it’s wrong to waste any whiskey. Also, there are times when throwing whiskey away is simply not an option and knowing how to make bad whiskey taste good will be a lifesaver.
For example, the offending bottle of whiskey is a gift from your wife, who despite your clear and detailed explanation of how whiskey is made and what therefore constitutes a good-quality whiskey and by-the-way-here’s-a-handy-list-of-those-I-like-so-nothing-can-go-wrong, has nontheless managed to purchase something substandard and is excited to see you enjoy it.
Er … or you can’t afford anything better.
Six Easy Ways to Make Bad Whiskey Taste Good: An Overview
There are six easy ways of making bad whiskey taste good:
- Chill it with ice cubes to inhibit the bad flavors
- Dilute it with water
- Use it in a cocktail
- Add bitters to give it flavors you like
- Use it to make your own blended whiskey
- Age it to give it more flavors
1. Chill Bad Tasting Whiskey With Ice Cubes to Inhibit the Bad Flavors
Adding ice cubes to whiskey quickly lowers its temperature calming the burn of the alcohol. With the alcohol somewhat supressed it will no longer overpower the whiskey’s flavors or numb your taste buds making you unable to taste those flavors in the first place. You may be able to make a bad whiskey taste good simply by ensuring you’re tasting the delicious flavors of the whiskey and not the unpleasant ones of the alcohol.
Additionally, if it’s the flavors of the whiskey that taste bad, the ice cubes will supress them too. This is because cold inhibits the flavors of a whiskey.
If ice cubes don’t work, you can put your whiskey in the fridge until it’s cold enough that you can’t taste the bad flavors.
You may not have made bad whiskey taste good in the sense of it now having a great taste, but you will have made it taste good in the sense of it not tasting foul anymore.
2. Dilute Bad Tasting Whiskey With Water
Diluting your whiskey with water does three things. First, it dilutes the alcohol content of your whiskey which is another way of ensuring the alcohol won’t get in the way of you tasting the whiskey’s actual flavors or ruin your tasting equipment.
Second, it dilutes any bad tastes which, like cold inhibiting the bad flavors of whiskey won’t necessarily make bad whiskey taste good but it will make bad whiskey taste better.
Thirdly, adding water to whiskey opens up new and more subtle flavors. Yes, they may be just as bad as the original one(s), but since even one drop of water changes the taste of your whiskey, if you add one at a time you will significantly increase the chances of finding a taste you like and making your bad whiskey taste good.
3. Use Bad Tasting Whiskey in a Cocktail
There are lots of great whiskey cocktails any one of which is another easy way of making bad whiskey taste good. In a cocktail, the taste of the whiskey is reduced as it brings out the flavors from the other ingredients and works with them to create something unique. This is one of the reasons why people who don’t like whiskey neat drink whiskey cocktails … and why high-quality whiskey isn’t usually used to make them.
Many cocktails are easy to make and some you may want to try (with good or bad whiskey) include but are not limited to:
Whiskey and Soda: a mixture of whiskey and soda water or any other sparkling water. The ratio of ingredients is not fixed, but as you’re trying to limit the taste of a bad whiskey, you’ll probably want to increase the amount of soda.
Old Fashioned: muddled sugars and bitters, with whiskey.
Boulevardier: equal parts whiskey, vermouth and Campari.
Rusty Nail: made by mixing Drambuie and Scotch whiskey.
You can also add whiskey to Mountain Dew, which was actually created to counter the harsh flavors of moonshine. The phrase ‘mountain dew’ is actually slang for ‘moonshine’, which in turn is slang for ‘illegally made high-proof distilled spirits’, which like its legal version is early stage whiskey without most of its flavor. The Mountain Dew softens the ethanol and bad tasting grain flavors, while at the same time the caramel of the whiskey complements the Mountain Dew’s citrus flavor.
If all else fails, you could just add Coca-Cola. Somehow everything tastes better with Coca-Cola. This may have something to do with the sugar.
4. Add Bitters to Bad Tasting Whiskey to Give It Flavors You Like
Bitters are alcohol-based flavoring agents. They’re generally sold in small bottles where each drop contains a lot of flavor.
They’re made by infusing a neutral spirit with any number of aromatics including herbs, spices, tree bark, roots, seeds, fruits to name … these. The end result is a bitter sour or bittersweet flavor. And so the mystery of the name is cleared up once and for all.
Originally intended for medicinal purposes it’s now mostly used for something more enjoyable, namely: cocktail flavorings and alcoholic drinks. This is a recurring theme in human development. For some reason you all already know.
There are lots of bitters with a variety of different flavors, from the more traditional Angostura bitters that have a spicy flavor with hints of clove and cinnamon or Peychaud’s bitters that taste slightly more sweet with fruity notes, to new and unusual flavors like chocolate, coffee and cherry. This makes the number of flavor profiles for bitters nearly endless.
You can add bitters to any whiskey to give it additional flavors so it’s certainly able to make your bad whiskey taste good. You can try WoodfordReserve Bitters Bundle which you can find on Amazon here.
5. Use It to Make Your Own Blended Whiskey
Blended whiskey is the result of different whiskeys (as many as 50 in some blends) being combined in precise, formulaic and highly secret proportions to produce a whiskey of definite and recognizable character with a consistent taste.
The master blender is the person who knows which whiskeys to combine and in what proportions, to make a particular blended whiskey.
It takes years of practice to develop the necessary skills to become a master blender with many hopefuls starting as an apprentice and working with those who have years of experience, diligently learning everything they can from them while refining their own nose and palate so that they can eventually earn that coveted title, but since you’re not working for a famous brand ensuring their whiskey has the precise taste everyone expects, all you need is two bottles of whiskey.
Like adding bitters, blending is a way of creating a whiskey with the flavors you like and is usually done with perfectly good whiskey, so it’s definitely a solution if you find yourself with not-quite-up-to-your-usual-standard whiskey.
Mix the bad tasting whiskey with another whiskey or whiskeys. You may want to do more than just throw a couple of whiskeys together, like testing different proportions of the various whiskeys in your arsenal and balancing out bitter flavors with sweeter ones, but with a bit of experimentation you should be able to make your bad whiskey taste good.
6. Age Bad Tasting Whiskey to Give It More Flavors
A whiskey acquires 80% of its flavor during the aging / maturation process. This is when whiskey is stored in barrels for years or even decades so that changes in temperature and humidity will cause the whiskey to seep into the wood of the barrel and then back out again picking up all sorts of chemicals in the process (wood sugars, vanillin, lactones, tannins and other compounds). The more this occurs the more the wood of the barrel transmits different and intricate flavors to the whiskey.
At the same time the chemicals remove some of the unpleasant sulphury notes and some of the lighter and more volatile compounds evaporate through the barrel walls. The upshot of all this is that some of the whiskey’s harshness is removed making it smoother, while plenty of flavor is added giving it much of its … well flavor.
Since whiskey is not something that just has a flavor because of what it is, but is given a flavor because of how it’s made, you can make bad whiskey taste good with a similar process.
There are two ways of replicating the commercial aging / maturation process yourself.
The first is by adding oak wood sticks to your whiskey. When the temperature rises the wood expands and the whiskey is absorbed into the wood and when the temperature falls the wood contracts and the whiskey is expelled. Just like barrel aging, the flavors in the wood are transmitted to the whiskey.
Try using Oak Infusion Spirals which you can find on Amazon here.
The second method of aging your own whiskey is by purchasing your own barrel and letting your whiskey mature for a while, essentially doing what distillers do. Don’t worry you won’t need the commercially standard 53-gallon barrel. You can use something much smaller. And you won’t need the commercially standard 3 to 30 years either. You can find one on Amazon here.
As a rule of thumb, one oak stick will age one 750ml bottle of whiskey in one week by about five years, a one liter barrel will take no more than a few weeks to age and a ten liter barrel will only take a few months.
The reason why you’ll be able to age whiskey quicker than distillers can is because you’re doing it on a smaller scale. This means the amount of wood touching the whiskey will be four or five times higher than when whiskey is aged in greater quantities and more flavor will be imparted at one time, so of course your aging / maturation process will be quicker.
I have written a more detailed guide about aging whiskey, here.
There are six easy ways to make bad whiskey taste good. You can chill or dilute the whiskey, you can use it in a whiskey cocktail, you can add bitters, blend your own whiskey or age the whiskey yourself.
It’s certainly always simpler to get rid of bad whiskey but sometimes that’s not an option. If that’s the case, knowing how to make bad whiskey taste good will allow you to salvage more than just the whiskey.