Bourbon brings people together over a shared love for, well, bourbon. Drinking bourbon is one activity (and one we fully support) — but a bourbon tasting is a whole different concept. Learning how to do a bourbon tasting the right way can give you a renewed sense of appreciation for the classic spirit.
To highlight our love for bourbon tastings, we’ve partnered with the experts at Bourbon Junkies. Bourbon Junkies love all things whiskey, bourbon, scotch, and, as they say, “nonsense.” We’ve launched our second Tee with them, Dripping Virtue, this design represents their spirituous quest to find the world's most exquisite booze.
In honor of our friends at Bourbon Junkies and the wonderful spirit of bourbon, here’s the down-low on how to taste bourbon, and if you’re really feeling it, how to host a bourbon tasting party.
The Ultimate Bourbon Tasting Guide
From bourbon tasting notes to how much bourbon to pour, you’re not alone if you’re a little overwhelmed when it comes to bourbon tasting. It’s truly an art — one we appreciate because we get to drink bourbon.
While there’s no perfect or “right” way to do a bourbon tasting, we’ve broken it down into 6 easy steps to get you started.
1. Choose and pour your bourbon.
Choose your favorite bourbon. One of the best bourbons for beginners is Knob Creek, but you can do a bourbon tasting with any bourbon of your choice.
Pour just an ounce (or two if you’re feeling up to it) of your chosen bourbon. If you’re going with a few different bourbons, you may want to keep your pours on the smaller side. This will help you keep your wits about you as you progress through your bourbon tasting.
2. Check out the color.
Bourbon is so much about color. The lighter the color of your bourbon, the lighter it’s going to taste. Meanwhile, darker bourbons pack a lot of punch and are often higher in alcohol content.
Take note of your bourbon’s color, and try to envision what it’s going to taste like.
3. Smell the bourbon.
Time to engage your sense of smell. Similar to a wine tasting, smelling your bourbon is a key part of the bourbon tasting process. Your smell and taste are very intertwined, so it’s best to play up that relationship.
Pick up your glass, and place your nose just barely inside. Breathe using your nose — but keep your lips slightly parted! This is important to make sure you don’t just take in the smell of alcohol. Give your bourbon a few whiffs for good measure.
4. Find out how your bourbon tastes.
If you’ve ever wondered, “What does bourbon taste like?” — it’s time to find out.
Take a small (we repeat, small) sip of your bourbon. Take a few moments to notice the sensations and flavors of your bourbon. Do you taste oak? Caramel? Vanilla? Spice? Maybe you notice some floral notes or some wood notes?
You can’t really be wrong here, so try to notice as much as possible when it comes to how your bourbon tastes.
And if you’re feeling really into your bourbon tasting, swish the bourbon around in your mouth a bit (called the Kentucky Chew). This will give your senses an opportunity to really notice the taste of bourbon. But if you’re a bourbon newbie, this can be a little — or a lot — overwhelming.
5. Take notice of the finish.
That taste and heat you notice after you swallow your bourbon? Yeah, that’s purposeful, and it’s called the finish.
Pay attention to the finish of your bourbon. What notes do you notice? And how long does it linger? Let the bourbon finish its job before taking another sip.
6. Repeat the process.
Once you’re done, complete the whole process once more. You might notice some things the second time around that you missed during the first. It can take about three sips of bourbon to really appreciate the complexity of the spirit.
Then, before you move on to another bourbon for another bourbon tasting, take a sip of water to clear your palate. You can repeat the process again with another bourbon and compare what you notice. Before you know it, you’ll be a pro bourbon taster and connoisseur.