What's the Best Whiskey to Sip on a Hot Summer Day?
These seven bottles work best with a cube of ice and sunshine
This story is part of our Dog Days Survival Guide, a collection of essays, recommendations and how-tos to help you get through the hottest days of the year.
As the pandemic and summer collided, my enthusiasm for making cocktails wavered. I had planned to use quarantine time to expand my home-bar knowledge (like these wonderful boozy hobbyists), but outside of taking one very good MasterClass on mixology and a few early, shaky drinks experiments, I quickly went back to getting my cocktails for delivery or pick-up.
When I drank on my own, it was the same thing again and again: Whiskey. Occasionally neat, but usually with one big sphere of ice or — on rare, motivated occasions — mixed as an Old Fashioned (when the addition of sugar and bitters is too much effort, you know you’ve hit covid depression.)
Now, I love whiskey and I drink it all year, but I tend not to drink it straight when it’s hot out. Mint juleps or Toki highballs, sure. But I’ve always associated hot weather more with cocktails that contain tequila, vodka, rum or gin … really, anything except an aggressive brown spirit.
But I was determined to add whiskey to my year-round drinks rotation, so I spent the week coming up with a boozy plan for our remaining sweltering days ahead. In lieu of just sitting outside with dozens of whisky/whiskey samples and seeing how I felt after a few drams and some time baking in the sun, I wanted to narrow down my list.
- Anything corn-based seemed a little heavy and sweet, so I counted out most bourbons (my favorite, unfortunately) and Tennessee whiskies. And obviously, 100% corn whiskies.
- I had to scratch off a few areas due to lack of personal inventory (sorry, India and Japan).
- Would I drink sherry or port on a hot day? No, so that limits some whisky with secondary maturation (with exceptions, see below).
- Given that I’d be drinking with an ice cube, I’d want the whiskey to feature a high ABV so the slowly-diluted spirit in my glass could maintain its flavor and punch … so see ya later, mainstream 80-proof hooch
- Maker’s Mark promised to send me a new limited release that had the promising tasting note of “butter pecan ice cream” … but it’s not quite available yet. Next.
So that’s everything I could cut out. What about areas I might be overlooking?
For that, I turned to a few people in the industry with whom I used to regularly drink (pre-COVID days). Essentially, friendly drinking folk who are also whiskey experts/writers but not affiliated with any brand.
“I’d go with a single grain Scotch or Irish whiskey,” suggested one cohort. “They’re usually much lighter than malts or bourbons, and easier to enjoy in hot weather.”
The single grain idea intrigued me — that’s a lighter-bodied whisky made with barley and one other grain (wheat, corn, etc.). While it’s rare to use outside of in a blended Scotch, there are exceptions … and it’s not limited to Scotland. Because I’m a fan of Teeling, I put their Single Grain Irish Whiskey on the list.
“I find most whisk(e)ys refreshing any time of year,” another fellow drinks writer messaged me. “But I think something that trends a little lighter, sweeter with a natural hint of citrus to it. Like a younger Aberlour, Bushmills or, as a matter of fact, the new Whistlepig Homestock which I was just savoring yesterday on a balmy summer’s evening.”
That works! Bushmills has long been a go-to of mine in sweaty environments — say, rock shows in tiny clubs — although I feel like it’d lose its modest flavor profile by sitting out too long with the ice. Some expressions of Aberlour, however, do have citrus notes, and the new no-age A’bunadh Alba foregoes the brand’s usual sherry influence. As I noted in my review earlier this year, there were notes of orchard fruits here (apples, pears, peaches), plus plenty of vanilla influence from the oak, reminding me of a brighter, fruitier take on a high-proof bourbon.
And that WhistlePig Homestock — a crowd-sourced blend of rye, wheat and barley whiskeys — seems to hit all the right notes. There’s spice from the rye but an overall gentleness, even with a 43% ABV.
Now we’re getting somewhere!
A few other contenders:
Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth: An eight-year whiskey finished in rum barrels, so there’s a hint of banana and coconut. Admittedly, I didn’t love this outside of cocktails when I tried it last year, but I could see a segment of the drinking population enjoying this on a hot day.
The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old: I was going to suggest the rum-finished Caribben Cask from The Balvenie, but I was messaging with Neil Strachan, The West Coast Ambassador for the Scotch brand, about another story and he brought up this release. “There’s a lovely dryness here with the use of Spanish Oak. Often, I liken this dryness to that of white wines and it makes this whisky perfect to pair with seafood” … aka an ideal summer meal.
Kavalan Classic: Taiwan’s excellent whisky is the result of subtropical temps and high humidity, which creates a much faster aging process. I visited the distillery a few years back during a sweltering August heatwave — if the whisky can handle the intense heat and come out all the better, it seems built for hot summer days (when I was there, I was drinking it neat out of small pitchers, which was the norm). The Classic release is easiest to find here, and I find it fruity and fresh.
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