How To Drink Bourbon

Bourbon is a classic drink of our alcoholic collections. It evokes memories of people like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and old westerns.

Bourbon lovers will know the exquisite taste and aroma that emanates from a good quality bourbon, and they’ll likely know how to drink it – but many of us do not.

How To Drink Bourbon

For some, bourbon is just another alcoholic drink to sink down in one gulp and feel the burn through the throat – and some others use bourbon for medical reasons like toothache!

The fact is, bourbon has to be respected like a fine wine or quality scotch and there is a specific way you should be drinking it.

This guide will examine how you should drink bourbon, along with some other handy information when it comes to American whiskeys.

So, pour yourself a glass and settle in. Let’s get into this.

Bourbon: What To Know

Before we get into how to drink bourbon, it’s important that we first know what bourbon is along with its other basics.

Brief History

From the 18th century, bourbon – which gets its name from its origins in Bourbon County, Kentucky – has been crafted and developed. Although it was originally made sometime in the 1700s, it wasn’t until the 1860s that its name really took off.

From humble beginnings being shipped via the Mississippi River to Louisiana, to the creation of the well known Bourbon Street, it’s now being enjoyed all over the world. Its taste comes from the climate of Kentucky and the use of limestone water.

Unlike drinks like champagne though, bourbon is allowed to be made all over the United States and elsewhere, but most makers outside of Kentucky will not use the word bourbon, or will differentiate from the original in some ways. This is just a sign of honor other than anything else.

Whereas champagne must, for legal reasons, be made in the area of Champagne – if it isn’t, it must be called something like white bubbly wine.

So, What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey which is aged in a barrel and mostly created by corn. The taste of bourbon is distinct from other whiskeys. It has a much sweeter taste and often overtones of vanilla or spices.

In order for a bourbon to be allowed to be called a bourbon, it must undergo specific criteria and pass these checkpoints:

  • Bourbon must be made in the United States
  • The mash must be 51% corn or more
  • Straight bourbon must be aged for two years or more
  • It cannot be distilled more than 80% ABV (alcohol by volume)
  • When entering its barrel, it cannot be more than 62.5% ABV
  • To be bottled, it must be a minimum of 40% ABV

Making bourbon is a long and drawn out process that involves a lot of specificity and attention to detail. This shows how serious bourbon producers take their product, and we thank them for it!

How To Drink The Bourbon


Now that we’ve established what bourbon is and its humble beginnings to its strong presence now, we’ll explore how you should be drinking it step by step!

Check The Label

With most foods and drinks, you should always be checking the label anyway. How else are you going to know what is in it?

Bourbon is an umbrella term for a lot of bourbon type drinks, so you’ll want to look out for certain things. If you see the words “straight bourbon”, you’ve got the best drink. This means the drink has not been affected by additives to change its flavor or color.

Now, we need to look at the age of the bourbon. Most premium bourbon will have its age on the label, and some non-premium bourbons will too. However, if it does not have an age on the label, the chances are it is a young bourbon.

Remember what we mentioned though – it’s been through at least 2 years of aging anyway.

Next up, look at the proof figure. Proof refers to its alcohol content and is calculated by its ABV multiplied by two. It doesn’t mean the bourbon will taste stronger by any means, it just means you’ll be consuming a more alcoholic drink.

You should also look for where the bourbon came from, by looking at where it was distilled and who by, especially if it’s a single barrel bourbon. This should not make too much of a difference, but it’s always good to know where your bourbon comes from – especially if you’re keeping a diary.

Select Your Glass

Some people overlook this point, but the right glass can seriously alter your bourbon experience. If you have a glass designed specifically for that bourbon (Jack Daniel’s for example), you should always opt to use it.

These glasses are made to enhance the aroma and taste of the drink for drinking bourbon neat. If however you’re adding a few drops of water, you might want to go for a brandy glass which will keep the aroma intact.

Pour And Use Your Senses

Once you’ve got your glass, pour a glass of 2 oz of bourbon and observe its color. As bourbon ages, it normally gets darker (it starts off clear!) — which means if your bourbon is clearer, it’s likely a younger bourbon.

Put your nose over the lip of the glass and smell the aroma. Swirl it around and do it again and leave your top lip slightly open to really absorb all the sensory experiences.


Pour a little into your mouth and let it linger on the tongue for a moment. Breathe in and enjoy all the flavors and smells that are being passed through your senses.

The Bottom Line

Bourbon should be enjoyed in its intended way – but when all is said and done, it’s entirely up to you how you want to enjoy your bourbon!

Robert Kaser
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