An Introduction to the Art of Drinking Bourbon
Bourbon is a special part of the whiskey family, with a rich history and an impressive heritage. Its unique flavour profile and complex characteristics make it a favourite among whiskey enthusiasts. But do you know how to truly enjoy it? If you’re new to bourbon or want to learn more about this beloved spirit, you’re in the right place.
Understand the Basics
The first step is to understand what bourbon is. Originating from the southern United States, particularly Kentucky, bourbon must follow certain criteria to be labelled as such. Even though it is a type of whiskey, bourbon is not simply any old brown spirit. By law, it must be produced in the United States, made from at least 51% corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, and bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume). The process of making bourbon gives it a distinct flavour that sets it apart from other types of whisky.
Choosing Your Bourbon
A key step in your bourbon journey is choosing the right bottle. There is a wide range of bourbons to choose from, each with its own flavour profile. Some are sweeter, with notes of caramel and fruits, while others may have a smoky, oaky taste. It might be beneficial to try out a few different brands and styles to determine your personal preferences. Reviews and ratings can come in handy, but remember, the best bourbon is the one you enjoy the most, regardless of price or popularity.
Enjoying Your Bourbon
Savouring bourbon involves more than just drinking it – there’s an art to it. The proper way to drink bourbon is to “taste” it rather than “shoot” it, much like you would with wine. We’re not going for intoxication here, but rather an appreciation of flavours.
Neat, on the Rocks, or with Water?
You’ve likely heard the terms ‘neat’, ‘on the rocks’, and ‘with a splash of water’, but what do they mean? Drinking bourbon ‘neat’ refers to drinking it straight without any mixers or ice. This allows you to truly taste the bourbon’s natural flavours and intensity.
If you find the bourbon too strong or concentrated, consider having it ‘on the rocks’, i.e., with ice. The ice will slowly melt into the bourbon, creating a softer, smoother taste. But be careful not to drown it with too much ice, or you’ll dilute the flavours.
If you want to open up the bourbon’s aroma and subtle flavours, add a few drops of water – this is what’s referred to as ‘with a splash of water’. This small amount of water can unbind the flavour elements of the bourbon, creating a more complex taste profile.
Take the Time to Nose
Yes, you read right. Before taking a sip, bring the glass close to your nose and inhale gently. This is called ‘nosing’. The warmth of the bourbon will release its aromatic compounds, which will tell you a lot about its taste even before you sip it. Note the scents – do you get hints of vanilla, caramel, oak, or fruit? All these can clue you in to what you’re about to taste.
Sip, Don’t Shoot
Remember, we’re not shooting tequila here. Take a small sip and allow the bourbon to coat your mouth. Try to identify the flavours. Is it sweet, spicy, oaky, or fruity? Sip slowly and really savour the taste. The joy of drinking bourbon lies in appreciating its complex character and surprisingly diverse flavour portfolio.
To Sum Up
Bourbon is to be appreciated. Like a good book or a fine cigar, bourbon is best savoured slowly. Take the time to learn about different bourbons, experiment with the way you serve it, and most importantly, enjoy it. So, pour yourself a glass, consider the craftsmanship that went into creating it, and raise a toast to the time-honoured tradition and enduring appeal of bourbon!