How should bourbon be served?

When it comes to drinking bourbon, you may wonder, ‘is there a correct or wrong way to drink it’? You did not quite think you need to pour out your bourbon and drink it, did you? Drinking bourbon is an art in itself if you ask me. You need to understand a few basics of serving it, so you get to enjoy its taste and wonderful aroma.

There are terms that you will first need to understand that guide on how you can drink your whiskey.

Let us get to understand some basics about bourbon.

All bourbons are considered whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. For a whiskey to be known as bourbon, it must constitute 51% corn produced in the United States and aged in new charred oak barrels.

The aging of the bourbon in the charred oak barrels is what gives the drink its color and taste. This is achieved because of the climate changes that make the glass expand into the barrel’s wood and contract back out of the wood, taking in the barrels’ ruttish taste and light or dark brown color.

After the overall aging period, some bourbon is lost through evaporation and is known as the “angel’s share,” while some are lost to the barrel’s wood. This they call, “the devil’s cut “me.

Bourbon terms

Some terms to look out for on the labels of bourbon bottles you buy are;

 ‘Straight Bourbon’

Straight bourbon indicates that the drink has no additives of any kind and has been aged for at least two years.

‘Blended Bourbon’

Blended bourbon has other colors and flavors added, but must always contain at least 51% of straight bourbon.

‘Single Barrel Bourbon’

This indicates that the drink has been bottled from a single barrel. Mostly done to get a more standardized flavor and may cost more than other types of bourbon.

‘Single Batch Bourbon’

This represents a majority of the Bourbon’ bottles in the market. In means that several barrels of alcohol were mixed then bottled.

‘Blended Straight Bourbon’

This is a mix of several two straight bourbon whiskeys.

‘Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon

This is whiskey from one distillery, distilled in the same season, and kept at a “federally bonded warehouse” for four years. This must be bottled at 100 proof.

The terms can be quite confusing, but they offer a guide on the type of experience to expect from the bottle you ultimately chose to purchase.

How to drink your bourbon

With the basics, let us get into the gist of everything, ‘how to drink your bourbon’. Here, we will look at the different tastes to expect from this fantastic drink, serve it, and taste it.

The first rule about drinking bourbon is to take a good look at it. How?

Pour some into a glass, swirl the drink around the glass and smell it (we will get into the art of sensing a little later). Now, hold the glass up above your eyes, up to the light and check for these;


Bourbon colors range from shades of light brown, golden, dark, and caramel-like, mainly obtained from the wood’s charring inside the oak barrels. Producers state that the older whiskeys are ones that are darker in color.


As you swirl the bourbon in your glass, some will coat the glass and cling to it. That is what is known as legs. Not all bourbons have legs.

What does bourbon taste like?

Because of its production, especially the aging process, bourbon has a variety of flavors. This being said, there are some primary flavors to expect.

“Caramel forward.”

This bourbon gets its flavor from the charred oak barrels’ caramelized sugars and offers a sweet taste.

“Grain forward.”

They say this is the best type of drink for a bourbon beginner. They taste of grains is termed as “young.”

“Cinnamon forward.”

This type is known to be heavy and spicy. It is majorly because the recipe contained mainly rye as the flavoring grain. Rye has a very peppery taste that makes the bourbon heavy.

“Nutmeg forward.”

These taste on nuts and are spicy as well.

 How to serve your bourbon

Bourbon can be served several ways depending on your personal preference and the kind of experience you expect to get from it.

Here are a few basic ways to drink your bourbon:


This is straight bourbon that you have not added anything and is at room temperature. It is advised to be the way to try out your drink for the first time.

With water.’

Do not be afraid to serve your favorite drink with a drop of two of water. It brings out the whiskeys different smells, they say. It can also help you enjoy the bourbon for longer if it is incredibly strong type, as it is said to ‘open up’ the aromas of the drink.

‘On the rocks’

This means adding ice to your bourbon. It can help bring out a better tasting experience for you. However, a point to note is that you should avoid tiny pieces of ice that may quickly dilute your drink.

‘As a cocktail.’

This involves mixing the bourbon with another drink. Here, the bartender can help with several recipes to choose from. If you are out of choices, swirling a glass of bourbon with Coke is said to be a delight and saves on the money! The main idea of a cocktail is not to mask the whiskey’s taste, but rather to help bring out its best.

Let’s look at a few cocktails, shall we?


A famous cocktail for bourbon lovers, it is “made with delicious bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters.” It is served in a ‘martini glass,’ and a must-have with your bartender.

Mint Julep

Known as a light type of cocktail but full of goodness. It is “made from bourbon, water, spearmint, and sugar.”

After you have had your first neat bourbon experience, you can experiment on the other types of servings to find out which one you may like best.

Still on serving, the glass you use to drink your bourbon matters a lot. Why you may ask. Let me explain:

Getting the right glass for your whiskey will enhance your experience. The shape of the glass matters when it comes to appreciating the smell and even taste of your drink. For this reason, a glass with a wide base and a somehow tapered mouth are ideal, even for holding the ice if you need to.

How to taste the bourbon

Remember, I mentioned that drinking bourbon was an art? You have to make sure you really taste the whiskey and smell it too. Here’s how:

-Pour a small amount of bourbon into a glass; make sure it is wide-mouthed. Let it settle for a while, just a few seconds.

-Smell it. Here is where you summon all your senses. Place your nose over the glass. Mae sure your lips are parted over the glass’s edge and breathe in through your mouth and not your nose. This will ensure the smell of the drink does not overpower your nose and guarantees you both the whiskey’s smell and taste. The type of scent you get from doing this will largely depend on your sense of smell, but you will know whether the drink is peppery or sweet.

-Take a sip of your drink. Do not be in a rush to swallow. To enjoy it more, let the whiskey roll around in the mouth and finally smack your lips. This is what bourbon experts call a “Kentucky Chew.”

-Now swallow your bourbon and let it wash over and warm you up. Experts call this a “Kentucky Hug.”

Points to note;

-Bourbon is a drink meant to be enjoyed and not to be drunk in a hurry. They say, “it is not meant for chugging, but to be savored.”

-Understanding the history of how bourbon is produced helps you appreciate it more. This will also help understand some words that may be found on the labels of bourbon bottles that might otherwise be hard to explain.

-There are various ways that you can serve your whiskey. However, it is best to try it ‘neat’ to get its flavor and aroma fully. After knowing your bourbon, you can try out other ways of drinking it, either as a cocktail, water, or rocks.

-To fully enjoy your whiskey, you have to take a good look at to observe the color, clearness, and legs (the trail of drink that trickles down your glass after you swirl it). Then smell it to get its aroma, and finally take a sip of it.

To conclude,

Bourbon is a versatile drink that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Did you know that you can use it for cooking? The fact that it is mainly without any chemical additives makes it a safe addition to the kitchen cabinet.

Serving bourbon is a matter of personal preference that you may have developed over time by trying out different whiskey types to find out which one is best for you.

What better way to enjoy your favorite drink than with your friends? This way, you can share notes on what you like or not like about it. I bet that is a good idea, isn’t it?

Please feel free to share your best bourbon serving experience!

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