Whisk(e)y Burns My Mouth

If you’ve ever wondered how anyone can actually taste anything in whiskey beyond a burning mouth sensation, then this article is for you.

If you’re already a whiskey drinker, then share this article with a friend who meets the above description.

By nature, whiskey distinguishes the casual taster from the resolute one. It draws a line in the sand that only the determined will cross. Why do I say that? Because everyone who isn’t used to drinking hard alcohol neat, will experience a sensorial overloading burn the first time they drink whiskey straight.

The good news is you can get used to the burn, and it’ll eventually go away. The bad news is it can take some time before you’re used to it. It’s that acclimation time that keeps some away from whiskey’s corner of the world.

Why does whiskey burn your mouth?

Simply put, whiskey’s high concentration of ethanol activates pain receptors in your mouth. That “pain” is perceived as a burning feeling. If you’d like a more detailed scientific explanation, then drop me a line using our Ask/Contact Us page and I’ll happily go into more detail.

How do you overcome whiskey’s burn?

There’s two ways. A long way and a faster way. Each requires drinking whiskey every day until you’ve overcome the burn. And each way is based on the premise that the more your senses are exposed to a stimulus, the less you react to it. This is why after a while parents don’t hear screaming children. Why people enjoy spicier and spicier food over time. And why serious coffee drinkers can drink strong coffee black and don’t taste any bitterness. They’ve all become used to, or blind to, a specific stimulus. Now, here’s how to do that with whiskey.

The long way

Lower the concentration of ethanol in your whiskey – with water – until it only burns a little, and then add less and less water each day until you’re drinking whiskey neat. You’ll have to be fairly meticulous. Pick a set, measured amount of whiskey – for example one ounce – and then keep track of how much water your adding each day. Disclaimer: this method takes a long time and I’ve yet to see someone stick with it to the end.

The fast way

Drink an ounce of whiskey neat, every day, until it stops burning you. That’s it. While this is a more uncomfortable way of getting used to whiskey, it has a much higher success rate.

What’s the reward for working past the burn?

A whole world of whiskey will be laid at your feet. All the tastes and aromas whiskey has to offer will be yours. You’ll be able to sample any whiskey anywhere and enumerate whole bouquets of flavor. Never again will you have to rely on someone else’s tasting notes. You’ll be able to decide for yourself what’s in your whiskey.

If the payoff seems worth it to you, then congratulations. You’re a determined explorer. If it seems like more effort than it’s worth, that’s ok too. Try whiskey cocktails. They’re delicious and you’ll be able to get some whiskey flavor without your drink causing you physical pain.

How did your first sample of whiskey go? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear about it!

My first “whiskey neat” experience ended in strongly suppressed coughs – I wanted to appear manly – and watery eyes.

— Zac Smith

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