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Bourbon for Beginners: How to Drink and Appreciate Its Taste

When it comes to finding the best bourbon for beginners, things can get a little intimidating. Bourbon is a traditional southern drink that has a cult-like following and specific ways that some people believe it should be enjoyed. So how do you get into drinking bourbon if you’ve never tried it before?

If you’re interested in learning more about bourbon, where it comes from, how to drink it, and what a good bourbon for beginners is, keep reading! We’re breaking down all the bourbon basics so you can go prepared for your next bourbon tasting.

What is Bourbon? 

Did you know that all bourbon is a kind of whiskey? So, to understand what bourbon is, you have to understand what whiskey is.

Whiskey is an alcoholic drink that is made when distillers distill a mash of fermented grain. The grains included in the mash are typically barley, rye, corn, and wheat. Sometimes, whiskey distillers will add other flavors and additives to the mix.

However, bourbon is a little different. It’s also highly regulated by the government. Unless the distiller follows the distillation rules, they can’t call it bourbon.

For a whiskey distiller to call its product whiskey, it has to meet several standards.

It must:

  • Be made in the US
  • Have at least 51% corn in the mash
  • Be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume
  • Be stored in brand new charred oak barrels

Bourbon may not have any additional flavors. It’s typically made in Kentucky because of the mass quantities of limestone that are needed to filter the water for high-quality bourbon.

The Angel’s Share and the Devil’s Cut 

You may have heard the terms “angel’s share” and “devil’s cut” when talking about bourbon. These two terms are actually a part of what makes bourbon so expensive.

While the bourbon ages in barrels, some of it drains into the wood as it ages. This is known as the “devil’s cut.” Additionally, some of it evaporates. This is known as the “angel’s share.”

There is a kind of bourbon that is made with the bourbon extracted from the wood from the barrels known as “devil’s cut” bourbon.

Reading Bourbon Labels 

Bourbon labels can be confusing. There are a couple of labels you may see while you’re shopping for bourbon.

Single barrel bourbon is bourbon made from a single barrel. This kind of bourbon is a little more costly because distillers don’t mix multiple, possibly less expensive, variants.

If you see small batch bourbon on a label, it means that it’s a specialty batch where a small number of barrels were mixed.

Straight bourbon is a bourbon that has aged for two years. Blended bourbon is a blend of whiskey and bourbon, but it has to contains 51% bourbon.

Bottled-in-bond bourbon is a bourbon made from one distillery, from the same season, bottled when the bourbon was at 100 proof, and stored in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years.

The Taste of Bourbon 

So, what should you expect from bourbon the next time you go on a private bourbon tasting? It’s going to be difficult to give you an exact idea because bourbon has a complex flavor profile.

However, there are four main flavor profiles to consider when talking about bourbon.

The best-tasting bourbon for beginners is usually bourbon with a grain forward profile. They’re younger bourbons with a strong grain flavor.

There’s also nutmeg forward bourbon that is a little spicier and has nutty overtones. Bourbon with a caramel forward profile has picked up more sweetness from the oak barrels.

Cinnamon forward bourbon is spicy as well and contains a mash with lots of rye.

How to Drink Bourbon for Beginners 

If you’re not sure how to drink bourbon for the first time, you’re in luck. Grab a couple of bourbons that you are interested in trying, get a shot glass, and get ready to taste!

Pour the bourbon into the glass and give it a swirl. Then smell it. Hold it up to the light and check it out.

Some things to look for are color, legs, and smell.

Color is a good way to check for how old your bourbon is. Bourbon ranges in color from golden to caramel. The dark it is, the older it is.

“Legs” is a term used to describe the way bourbon clings to your glass. If your bourbon does cling, it has legs.

There’s a specific way to smell bourbon, as well. Instead of holding your nose over the glass and inhaling, you hold it over your mouth and breath through your mouth instead of your nose.

This will let you smell and taste the bourbon at the same time without overwhelming your nose with the alcohol scent. You’ll be able to smell sweet, spicy, or peppery notes when you smell bourbon this way.

Next, you get to drink it. Take a small sip and roll it around your mouth. Let it coat your tongue before you smack your lips.

When you swallow, you’ll notice that the bourbon warms you up as it goes.

Ways to Drink Bourbon 

You can try your bourbon in a few different ways.

If you want your bourbon without any additives, you’ll ask for it neat. This is the best way to try out a new flavor.

If you want it with a few drops of water, it’ll bring out the aromatics. This is great for strong whiskeys.

If you want your bourbon with ice, ask for it on the rocks. This can help other flavors stand out and can mellow out particularly strong bourbon.

There are even some great cocktails that call for bourbon as well!

How to Find the Best Tasting Bourbon for Beginners

You don’t have to be intimidated to try bourbon for beginners. It may seem like the rich cultural and traditional practices around bourbon tasting are overwhelming. It can be embarrassing to try new alcohol for the first time only to be told you’re doing it wrong!

But as long as you follow these steps, you’ll be a bourbon pro in no time.

For more of the top food and beverage news, keep reading!

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