How to drink bourbon or whiskey is a personal preference. Several perfectly acceptable ways to enjoy a good bourbon or whiskey exist. Some people only drink their whiskey straight up, while others like to experiment with bourbon in various cocktails. There is no one right way that dictates how to drink bourbon...

bourbon: how to drink

If you are new to whiskey and bourbon, you might not be familiar with all the options. Consider the following suggestions for how to drink bourbon to look like a pro when you're at the bar with friends or colleagues. 

How to Drink Bourbon: Straight Up or Neat 

If you ask whiskey purists how to drink bourbon, they will likely tell you the best way to consume bourbon is neat. When you order a bourbon neat, you're asking for it served at room temperature with no additives or ice. Some people believe neat is the only way to genuinely appreciate a bourbon's characteristics because nothing else competes with the aromatic flavors. 

An essential element of how to drink bourbon neat is ensuring that the bar serves bourbon in the proper glass. A bourbon neat requires the correct glass to elevate your experience. 

How to Drink Bourbon: With a Splash of Water

You might find some bourbon bars that add a splash of water when you order. Don't worry; the water won't dilute the bourbon, as it should only be a few drops. The water added to the bourbon can help open up additional aromas. Be sure to inhale deeply to pick up all the rich smokiness. Ordering your bourbon with a splash of water is ideal if you choose a barrel-proof or cask-strength bourbon. These bourbons are the only two types of bourbons that bourbon makers have not proofed down with water.

How to Drink Bourbon: On the Rocks 

Some people cannot stand to drink bourbon at room temperature. In this situation, you would likely want to order your bourbon on the rocks. On the rocks means pouring it over ice with no other additives. While the ice could dilute the bourbon slightly, this feature could be a positive point for those new to bourbon who want a more balanced bourbon experience. If you are at a bourbon bar or someplace that specializes in classic cocktails, you might find that the bar uses giant ice cubes or whiskey stones since they don't dilute the spirit as much. 

One note on how to drink bourbon on the rocks — do not treat it as a cocktail where you might drink it faster. Bourbon on the rocks should be sipped and appreciated. 

How to Drink Bourbon: In Classic Cocktails

Some people might say that bourbon cocktails don't represent the ideal way to drink whiskey. However, some of the most iconic classic cocktails feature whiskey or bourbon. Don't let anyone tell you the only answer to the question of how to drink bourbon is either neat or on the rocks. 

One of the most famous cocktails incorporating bourbon is the mint julep. It's the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby and pays homage to bourbon's roots in Kentucky. The mint julep is a simple drink that is easy to make and refreshing. A traditional mint julep has bourbon, spearmint, water, and sugar. Be careful, though; mint juleps are much more intense in flavor than they appear. 

The Manhattan cocktail is another excellent option for bourbon drinkers. It has bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters. A Manhattan cocktail is traditionally served in a martini glass and should be a standard menu item at any good bourbon bar. 

A similar option is the old-fashioned, made with bourbon, simple syrup, and bitters. This cocktail comes in a rocks glass. An old-fashioned is excellent for people worried about bourbon's robust and intense flavor. It's a very balanced cocktail, making a spicier bourbon easier to enjoy. 

Tips for How to Drink Bourbon Like a Pro 

People might say there's no wrong way to drink bourbon. While that statement is mostly true, you can take steps to improve your bourbon experience as you discover how to drink bourbon. Selecting a bourbon is a personal choice. Everyone has different palates and budgets. 

Try different styles of bourbon to understand flavor profiles and what you like. However, consider which styles of bourbon work best for how you plan to order. If you're learning how to drink bourbon, consider starting with straight bourbons before venturing into other types. Straight bourbon contains bourbon only; it won't have anything else that alters its color or flavor. If you plan to order bourbon cocktails, specific bourbons work better than others, including high-rye bourbons. 

If you are drinking bourbon at home, choose the proper glass. You want a glass that will showcase the bourbon's aromas and flavor profile. One of the most common options for serving bourbon is the Glencairn glass. It has a solid base with thicker glass and is the perfect shape for learning how to swirl whiskey. You could also try side-by-side comparisons using a whiskey-specific glass next to something like a rocks glass. Avoid using shot glasses because you won't get the whole bourbon experience from these types of glasses. 

When tasting multiple bourbons, it's best to serve them neat or with a splash of water. Swirl your bourbon around in the glass a few times, open your mouth, and place your nose close enough to pick up the aromas. You might want to try this technique more than one time with each bourbon, as your nostrils don't necessarily pick up the same odors simultaneously. Now that you are ready to taste it, only take a sip large enough to coat your tongue. 

Make notes on what you like about each bourbon. What is the mouthfeel, and does the bourbon burn your tongue? How long does the flavor linger in your mouth? Is there any flavor present once you swallow the bourbon? 

The essential aspect of how to drink bourbon is to have fun drinking bourbon. Bourbon is a spirit that you should enjoy in the company of friends and loved ones.

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