While there isn’t a scientific way to measure or describe the “smoothness” of a spirit, if you’re a whiskey drinker, you know that some bottles go down easier than others. You can think about how smooth a whiskey feels and tastes — if a sip burns your throat and makes your eyes water, the spirit in your glass shouldn’t be described as smooth. On the other hand, if you can pleasantly sip and savor a dram on its own, “smooth” is probably an apt descriptor.
Plenty of factors determine why some whiskey is smoother than others. Understanding these differences can help you select a bottle that’s right for you — whether that means you want an ultra-smooth, silky sipper or a punchy, in-your-face mixer. Read on to learn what makes some whiskey smoother than others:
There’s Proof in the Proof
A bottle’s proof clues you into how much alcohol it contains. Since alcohol is responsible for that distinctive burn you feel when you imbibe, it’s a number worth paying attention to. Generally speaking, the more alcohol a bottle contains, the less smooth it will be.
Of course, it’s not always just about proof. There are still whiskies that are perfectly balanced even though they contain a higher proof, like Ezra 99 (which, as its name implies, comes in at a proof of 99). Most of the time, bottles with a higher proof will feature more prominent flavors, so choosing the right bottle also comes down to how mellow or pronounced you want the flavors in your spirit to be.
The Mashbill Makes a Difference
Mashbill is the mix of grains used to make a bottle of whiskey. Certain types of whiskey, like bourbon, have specific requirements that must be met to be labeled as such, but distillers have some freedom regarding the ratio of grains they use in their mashbills. Take a look at the most common types of grains that are used to make whiskey and how each impacts the smoothness of the final product:
- Wheat: Wheat gives the whiskey a soft, grainy flavor that often results in a smoother bottle. Contrary to what many believe, wheat doesn’t add sweetness. Instead, wheat is a neutral flavor that allows the other grain flavors to come through.
- Rye: Rye is known for imparting hints of spice into the mix, which can sometimes make whiskey taste ‘hotter’ — so some people perceive it as less smooth.
- Corn: Corn is a key ingredient in bourbon, and it gives the whiskey a sweet, caramel flavor that can translate to smoothness when distilled and aged properly.
Aging does wonders when it comes to making whiskey smoother. The wood barrels in which whiskey is aged absorb chemical compounds in the spirit, making it smoother and easier to drink. The barrels also impart flavors like caramel, vanilla, and oak — all of which make whiskey easier on the palate. The longer the spirit ages in the barrel before it’s bottled, the more time it will have to mellow out, so most of the time, older whiskey is smoother.
Perhaps no other part of the distilling process matters more than the barrels. When whiskey is put into the barrel, it’s clear (called “white dog”) and very strong! The barrels–and in the case of bourbon, new charred American white oak barrels–turn the clear liquid into the beautiful brown whiskey color we all recognize. While it’s changing the color of the liquid, the barrel is also introducing notes of chocolate, vanilla, oak, smokiness, and more!
Essentially, the barrels used to store and age the whiskey account for about 70% of the flavor and 100% of the color.
Serving Style Can Impact Smoothness
How you choose to enjoy whiskey can significantly impact your perception of its smoothness. Even the best bottles will pack more punch when consumed neat. While we’re big fans of sipping whiskey as-is (especially high-quality bottles meant to be savored), we also understand that sometimes you need something more easy-drinking. Take a look at how you can serve whiskey to make it even smoother:
- On the rocks: Adding ice to your favorite dram not only makes it colder, but the dilution from the melting ice also works to open up the whiskey and give it a softer flavor. Serving whiskey on ice preserves the integrity and nuance of the spirit while helping it go down easy.
- With water: Adding a splash of water to your glass of whiskey will make it taste smoother. Some people (wrongly) believe that water is the enemy when it comes to drinking whiskey; in fact, a little water can help you pick up on flavors and aromas that you might otherwise overlook.
- In a cocktail: There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a whiskey-based cocktail when you want the flavor without the burn. There are plenty of spirit-forward cocktails out there that make whiskey the star of the show, but there’s also a plethora of beverages designed to mask the taste of booze for those who enjoy whiskey for the buzz rather than the taste.
Ezra Brooks Always Goes Down Smooth
Whether you want to enjoy whiskey’s signature warmth by drinking it neat or savor a refreshing, cooling cocktail, Ezra Brooks has plenty of options that go down smooth. Pick up a bottle of Ezra 99, Old Ezra 7, or our new Old Ezra 7 Straight Rye Whiskey today to start appreciating how silky smooth, good whiskey can be!