How to Drink Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is made primarily from corn and aged in charred oak barrels.


It is known for its complex flavors, which can range from sweet and spicy to smoky and woody. Drinking bourbon is a popular pastime for many people, but it can be intimidating for beginners who are not familiar with the proper way to drink it.

Understanding bourbon is the first step to enjoying it. Bourbon is made from a mash bill that contains at least 51% corn, with the remainder consisting of other grains such as rye, wheat, or barley. The mash is fermented, distilled, and then aged in charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years.

The aging process gives bourbon its distinct flavor and color. When choosing a bourbon, it is important to consider the mash bill, age, and proof to find one that suits your taste preferences.

Understanding Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is made in the United States. To be considered bourbon, it must meet certain requirements set by law.


These requirements include:

  • Bourbon must be made in the United States.
  • Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn.
  • Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  • Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume (ABV).
  • Bourbon must be bottled at no less than 40% ABV.

One of the unique features of bourbon is its flavor. Bourbon has a distinct taste that comes from the combination of its mash bill (the mix of grains used to make the whiskey) and the charred oak barrels in which it is aged. The charred oak barrels give bourbon its signature caramel color and add flavors like vanilla, caramel, and oak to the whiskey.

Another important aspect of bourbon is its age statement. By law, bourbon must be aged for at least two years to be considered “straight bourbon.” However, many bourbons are aged for much longer than that, with some premium brands being aged for 10 years or more.

When it comes to drinking bourbon, many people prefer to drink it neat (without any mixers or ice). This allows them to fully appreciate the unique flavors of the whiskey. However, some people prefer to drink bourbon on the rocks (with ice) or mixed in a cocktail like an Old Fashioned.

Choosing The Right Bourbon

Choosing the right bourbon can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. With so many options available, it can be difficult to know where to start. However, with a little guidance, anyone can find the perfect bourbon for their taste and budget.

Wiskey on old wooden floors The background is a wooden wall.

One of the first things to consider when choosing a bourbon is the price. Bourbons can range from affordable to very expensive, with some bottles of Pappy Van Winkle selling for thousands of dollars. For beginners, it’s best to start with a budget-friendly option. There are many affordable bourbons on the market that are still of high quality and taste great.

Another important factor to consider is the flavor profile. Different bourbons have different flavor profiles, ranging from sweet and fruity to spicy and smoky. It’s important to choose a bourbon that suits your taste preferences. For those who prefer a spicy and bold flavor, Wild Turkey 101 is a great option. On the other hand, Four Roses is known for its floral and fruity notes.

When picking a bourbon, it’s also important to consider the brand. Some of the most well-known and respected bourbon brands include Heaven Hill, Evan Williams, and Maker’s Mark. These brands have a reputation for producing high-quality bourbon that is consistently delicious.

Tasting bourbon is also an important part of choosing the right bourbon. When tasting bourbon, it’s important to pay attention to the aroma, taste, and finish. A bourbon with a pleasant aroma and a smooth finish is usually a good choice.

Bourbon Tasting Basics

When it comes to tasting bourbon, there are a few basics that every beginner should know.

A closeup of a hand pouring Basil Hayden's bourbon whiskey in a glass

These include examining the appearance, aroma, taste, and finish of the bourbon. By paying attention to these four elements, one can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity of this classic American spirit.


The appearance of bourbon can tell you a lot about the whiskey. The color of bourbon can vary depending on factors such as the type of barrel used and the age of the whiskey. Bourbon is typically amber in color, with shades ranging from light gold to deep copper.

The color can also provide clues about the flavor profile of the bourbon. For example, a darker color may indicate a richer, more complex flavor.


The aroma, or nose, of bourbon is an important part of the tasting experience. To properly smell the bourbon, it is recommended to hold the glass up to the nose and take a deep breath. The aroma can provide insights into the flavor profile of the bourbon, including notes of oak, caramel, and vanilla.


The taste of bourbon is perhaps the most important element of the tasting experience. When sipping bourbon neat or with a splash of water, one should take a small sip and let it sit on the tongue for a few seconds before swallowing.

This allows the flavors to fully develop on the palate. The taste of bourbon can vary widely depending on factors such as the mash bill, aging process, and proof. Some common flavor notes include vanilla, caramel, and oak.


The finish of bourbon refers to the aftertaste that lingers in the mouth after swallowing. A long finish is typically desirable, as it indicates a well-aged and complex bourbon. The finish can also provide clues about the quality of the bourbon and the presence of any unwanted flavors, such as a harsh burn.

Bourbon Drinking Styles

When it comes to drinking bourbon, there are several styles to choose from. Each style has its own unique characteristics and is enjoyed by bourbon enthusiasts worldwide.

man holding four glass shot of best bourbon shots

In this section, we will discuss the most popular bourbon drinking styles: Neat, On The Rocks, With Water, and Cocktails.


Drinking bourbon neat means drinking it at room temperature without any additional ingredients, such as ice or water. This style is preferred by bourbon aficionados because it allows them to appreciate the full flavor and aroma of the bourbon. When drinking bourbon neat, it is recommended to use a Glencairn glass, which is specifically designed to enhance the aroma and taste of the bourbon.

On The Rocks

Bourbon on the rocks is a popular way to enjoy the drink. It involves serving bourbon over ice, which helps to dilute the drink and reduce its potency. Some people prefer to use an ice sphere instead of regular ice cubes to prevent the drink from becoming too diluted. When drinking bourbon on the rocks, it is recommended to use a rock glass, which is a short tumbler glass that can hold ice cubes.

With Water

Adding a splash of water to bourbon is another popular way to drink it. The water helps to open up the flavors of the bourbon and reduce its alcohol content. When adding water to bourbon, it is recommended to use distilled or filtered water to avoid any unwanted flavors. It is also recommended to add only a small amount of water to avoid diluting the drink too much.


Bourbon cocktails are a great way to enjoy the drink in a different way. Some popular bourbon cocktails include the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Mint Julep. These cocktails typically include additional ingredients such as bitters, simple syrup, sugar, or fruit. When making a bourbon cocktail, it is important to use high-quality bourbon to ensure that the cocktail has a rich and complex flavor.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

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