Whiskey Expert Explains How To Give The Spirit The Appreciation It Deserves While Flying On An Airplane

a model airplane next to a glass of whiskey


As someone who’s spent over a decade immersing myself in the magical world of whiskey as part of a subconscious need to justify how much of it I tend to consume on a regular basis, I can safely say it’s just one of the many interests that tends to attract some insufferable aficionados with crippling gatekeeping issues.

While I can understand the urge to recoil in shock after seeing someone mix a pricy bourbon with Coke or admonish anyone who prefers to drink a scotch with an age statement that would make it eligible to vote on the rocks, I’ve reached a point where I realized it’s foolish to suggest there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to consume whiskey based on the inherently subjectively nature of this particular hobby.

However, there are certain situations where that is, in fact, the case. That includes scenarios where you find yourself soaring tens of thousands of miles over the surface of the planet in a pressurized steel tube—a ritual most people know as “flying.”

Whiskey typically isn’t the first beverage people opt for when they’re on an airplane (and if they do, there’s a good chance they’re mixing it with ginger ale), but if you find yourself ordering another adult beverage by default, it might be time to reconsider.

With that said, you also have to consider the various factors that can have an impact on how you perceive the taste of the spirit—which Darren Bott (who serves as the Vice President of Catering, Global Food & Beverage for Emirates) was kind enough to discuss when I got the chance to pick his brain about the best way to give whiskey the appreciation it deserves on a flight.

Are there any major misconceptions people have concerning the impact of flight altitude on taste and flavor in regard to whiskey and food and drinks in general?

One of the major misconceptions surrounding the impact of flight altitude is that the flavor/aroma of a beverage is altered due to the high elevation. In reality, it is humans themselves that are affected by the pressurized cabins.

As the level of humidity decreases, both oral and nasal cavities tend to become dry. When tasting or smelling in these dry conditions, flavors and aromas become dull and certain tastes become increasingly sharp (with wine, for example, the volatile aroma compounds can also be affected by low humidity levels).

Whiskey seems like an ideal option on a flight because of its inherently bold nature. This might be more of a matter of opinion, but I’m curious if someone who prefers whiskey on the rocks would see the flavor further diluted due to the impact of the various factors in the cabin.

Yes, they certainly will. When adding ice to whiskey, it inhibits the aromas and flavors as the temperature of the beverage drops rapidly. Those aromas and flavors will also be harder to detect due to the decreased humidity’s effect on our senses.

Do you have any insight (either data-based or from experience) into why so people tend to
gravitate toward tomato juice—and, in turn, Bloody Marys—on a flight as opposed to drinks they’d probably
order on the ground?

One of the main reasons why tomato juice and tomato-based cocktails are preferred over other refreshments such as soft drinks is the naturally high acidity and low sugar content, which helps passengers stay hydrated during a flight.

Acidity stimulates salivation, which helps to keep our mouths moisturized.

I know Emirates offers bespoke cocktails on flights, but are there any ways to elevate whiskey with other options available onboard or DIY strategies or “hacks” to take things to the next level?

Over the last decade, we have seen an increase in the popularity of the cocktail, which is why we are really taking the time and effort to ensure our crew is properly trained to make perfectly balanced drinks both onboard our aircraft and in our lounges.

One of the ways we elevate our onboard offerings and bring our passengers’ experience to the next level, is by providing exclusive, premium, and ultra-premium products, specifically crafted for Emirates. This includes exclusive and one-of-a-kind partnerships with brands and products such as The Dalmore King Alexander III.

For more insight into this particular realm, check out our previous conversation with Darren here

Connor Toole avatar and headshot for BroBible
Connor Toole is the Deputy Editor at BroBible. He is a New England native who went to Boston College and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. Frequently described as "freakishly tall," he once used his 6'10" frame to sneak in the NBA Draft and convince people he was a member of the Utah Jazz.