A few months ago, we met chef Anthony Bourdain when he passed through New York to talk whisky– or, specifically, Scotch whisky. Even more specifically, what his rules might be for drinking it. 

In our interview, Bourdain was adamant that there should not be rules for drinking whisky. Instead, he talked about the biggest misconception people have about Scotch, why a bottle of bad whisky isn’t the worst thing in the world, and the rule he sometimes breaks. We thought this a good time to share his thoughts.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when ordering whisky? 

First off, there is no wrong way to drink whisky. But for most people, I think drinking whisky takes some time before you learn to fully appreciate it. So I would say don’t go out looking for the best whisky right away. Take your time. 

Depending on your age, you’ll most likely be starting with crappy whisky. And that’s okay. You’ll eventually drink enough good whisky that by the time you drink a truly great whisky, you’ll hopefully be able to understand the difference. 
And that’s a magical moment.

You never go too overboard about the flavour notes in your glass?

I’ll be the first to tell you I’m no whisky connoisseur. I know what I like, and I can tell a good whisky when I taste it, but I’m not one to go on and on about the intricacies of its being. 

A whisky-drinking experience shouldn’t be scholars sitting around talking about vanilla and taking notes, in my view. I want to be surrounded by people enjoying their lives, listening to good music, and having a congenial conversation. 

Whisky should be part of a larger picture. One thing I have learned since is that not all Scotch is smoky. It’s a common misconception when it comes to Scotch whisky in particular, and a wrong one. 

Is there any time of day that you shouldn’t drink whisky?

I think whisky can have its place at any time of day, but my preferred experience tends to be in the late afternoon, sitting at an empty dive bar, surrounded by nothing but my thoughts, some good tunes, and a friendly barkeep. 

How do you feel about water or ice with whisky?

If we’re talking Scotch, I admit to heretical behaviour. If a Scotsman is not watching, I will sometimes put one rock in my drink. But the true professionals, like Balvenie malt master David Stewart, don’t mess with ice –they add water to open up the flavours.