So you want to try bourbon for the first time? Or maybe you’ve had bourbon before, but you’ve never taken the time to sit back and really try to enjoy it the way you’re supposed to? If any of this sounds like you, then you’re in the right place. Learning how to appreciate bourbon and the rules—often unspoken—for the proper way to sip and savor each glass can take a little time. However, just because bourbon seems intimidating, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to approach. In this article, we’ll teach you the basics about how to start drinking bourbon so you’ll never again have to wonder if you’re doing it right. With this information to help you begin, you should feel comfortable ordering bourbon the next time you go out.
Learn how to choose a bourbon.
There are a lot of different features that can fall into the overall “bourbon” category, so learning how to choose the right bourbon for your drinking experience is the first crucial step. You should always look for the word “straight” on the label, because this means the bourbon hasn’t had anything added to it. It’s just going to be bourbon in its simplest form.
Understand, too, that bourbon is not the same thing as whiskey, which is not the same thing as whisky, which is not the same thing as Scotch—you get the idea. These drinks are all extremely similar, but they are different, so knowing what you’re ordering ahead of time can help you get the drink you’re looking for. As a rule:
• Bourbon is a type of whiskey. It can only be called bourbon if it is at least 51% corn, aged in charred oak barrels, aged for at least two years, and made in the United States. Kentucky Bourbon, obviously, must be made in Kentucky, but other bourbons can be made elsewhere in the United States.
• Whiskey that does not meet these requirements but is still made in the United States is simply called whiskey, with an ‘e.’ Whisky that is made elsewhere in the world is just called whisky, with no ‘e.’
• Scotch is whisky that is made in Scotland and distilled from corn.
These terms can get confusing, but learning what they all mean is a vital step toward the bourbon-drinking experience.
There’s no need to spend a fortune on a good bourbon, either. Many quality bourbons fall into the $20 to $30 range, and if you’re a newcomer to the world of bourbon drinking, you can learn to enjoy this alcoholic beverage easily with some of these labels. Wild Turkey, for example, is a brand name that is easy to come by, affordable, and very high-quality, making it a great option for newcomers.
Learn how to drink bourbon.
Now that you know how to pick the bourbon you’ll be drinking, it’s time to brush up on the etiquette of actually drinking it. There are plenty of rules out there, and you can take them or leave them. However, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on these steps and guidelines before you decide whether or not they’re right for you. Keep these in mind when you try bourbon for the first time:
• Pour the bourbon into a glass with a wider base and a top that tapers somewhat. You don’t need to put bourbon in a shot glass. The smell of the bourbon is a huge part of the experience, so serving it in a glass that allows you to really get into the aroma is key.
• Don’t be afraid to cut it with a little water. Yes, this may sound counter-productive, but many bourbons are simply too strong to sip on their own, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that. If you’re having trouble really getting into the flavor of the bourbon, you may want to try putting a little bit of water in it to help dilute it. Just don’t go overboard, or you’ll end up with a watery drink that won’t taste like much of anything. Generally speaking, you should be looking for about half as much water as you have bourbon—but you can adjust this depending on your own personal tastes and preferences, too.
• You can also use ice if you prefer. Once again, don’t go overboard. Filling your glass with ice is just going to lead to a watery, disgusting mess by the time you finish your drink. A couple of cubes of ice or a single ice ball should be more than enough to allow you to enjoy your bourbon to its fullest. You should use the largest and densest pieces of ice you have available; don’t use crushed or splintered ice from an ice machine, or it will melt too quickly.
• Finally, it’s time to take a drink. Smell the bourbon first and allow yourself to recognize the aromas going on throughout the drink. From there, take a sip and hold it in your mouth for a few seconds. There’s no need to swish and spit; simply enjoy the flavor and the feel of the bourbon before swallowing it. From there, you can move on to sipping the drink at your leisure. Remember this isn’t an alcohol that’s intended to knock back like a shot, so take your time with it and work on one glass of bourbon for a little while to have the truest experience.
Now that you’ve learned something about how to begin drinking bourbon, don’t be afraid to branch out and sample different varieties. You can also try bourbon in other formats, too, such as in cocktails. Although there are plenty of unspoken rules about the right way to drink bourbon, there are just as many ways to break those rules. Once you’ve experienced bourbon the “right” way, you can get creative and discover some of the other ways you might want to drink this popular, sophisticated beverage too.