Recently, I spent an afternoon with Eddie Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey, and asked him if there was a right or wrong way to drink bourbon. His reply was very emphatic, “drink it however you like, just drink it!” Eddie was not the first master distiller to tell me this. He also reminded me that there are far more people drinking their bourbon on the rocks, with a splash of water, or mixed with something than those that drink it neat.
This being said, I do have some recommendations for ways to try a bourbon that is new to you. Following these will help you determine your right way to drink bourbon!
Try it Neat – Pour a little in your favorite glass and let it sit for a minute. Nose it to see if there is anything that jumps out to you like the sweetness of the corn, spice of a rye, or oak from the barrel. Take a sip and let it coat your mouth and tongue, allowing your senses to determine what you like or don’t like about it. Repeat this with a chilled glass or using stones (they won’t water down the bourbon) to see how temperature changes bring out or suppress different flavors.
Add a Splash of Water or an Ice Cube – Again, nose it and see if you can identify anything new. When you take a sip, you will likely be surprised how different the taste is. A bourbon can really open up with a little water while lowering the proof.
Make a Cocktail – If neat, with a splash, or with some ice is just not your thing, make your favorite cocktail. You will find that different bourbons work better with certain mixers. I would recommend keeping the top shelf bourbons away from the mixing station but that is just the miser in me.
Taking a little time to try your bourbon in different ways can really help you appreciate the variations available today. Remember that another person’s palate is not better or worse than yours, it’s just his or her palate and everyone’s is different. With experimentation, you will find that you may like certain bourbons neat, others with a splash of your favorite soda, or others on the rocks. The key is to drink what you like and like what you are drinking!
Until next time, Cheers!!