Best Way to Drink Bourbon

Best Way to Drink Bourbon

Ahhh bourbon. My gateway to world of whiskey… and this blog!

It’s a realm filled with rich flavors and some incredible traditions.

Whether you’re a seasoned aficionado or new to the allure of this classic American spirit, understanding that the best way to drink bourbon is highly personal—tailored to your taste, the occasion, and even your mood.

From a simple, straight pour at home to a bourbon cocktail served in a bar, there’s truly no incorrect method to relish this corn-grain spirit. That being said, there are some key ways you can get the most from your drink.

So let’s see which is best for you.

What Is Bourbon? 

Bourbon is a variety of American whiskey strongly associated with the southern state of Kentucky. By law, bourbon must be made from a blend of water, yeast, and at least 51% corn (maize). The mash bill also typically features a small portion of malted barley to facilitate fermentation. Often, other cereal grains like rye or wheat are added to enhance the corn, enriching the whiskey’s complex flavor profile.

The 4 Best Ways to Drink Bourbon

The tasting journey is where bourbon truly comes to life. As you allow the whiskey to roll across your tongue, you engage both nose and mouth in a full sensory experience. This is when all elements converge, creating a memory that will linger long after the last drop is savored.

#1 Bourbon Neat

Drinking bourbon neat is like listening to an acoustic version of your favorite song; it’s the spirit in its purest form, unadulterated and full of character. When you sip your favorite bourbons neat, you’re experiencing the whiskey exactly as the distiller intended, with all the rich flavors and aromas front and center. It’s a simple yet profound way to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into each bottle.

#2 Bourbon with Water

Adding a splash of water to bourbon can be a revelation, opening up new layers of flavor and softening the alcohol’s punch. Water can make those complex flavors more accessible, especially for those just starting their bourbon journey. A few drops can change the whole tasting experience, revealing hidden notes that might otherwise go unnoticed.

#3 Bourbon on the Rocks

Bourbon on the Rocks is a classic choice for those who love a colder sip. Chilling the bourbon with ice cubes can temper the heat of the alcohol, making it a smooth experience. But remember, as the ice melts, it dilutes the whiskey, so using larger ice balls from your local bottle shop can slow down the process. This way, bourbon drinkers enjoy a chilled drink without losing the spirit’s integrity too quickly.

#4 Bourbon in Cocktails

Mixing bourbon into cocktails is an art that marries tradition with creativity. A mixologist might blend Wild Turkey 101 with simple syrup and mint for a refreshing Mint Julep or pair bourbon and coke for a casual twist. These famous bourbon cocktails showcase how the spirit mixes well in cocktails, offering a spectrum of flavor combinations without masking the authentic flavors of the bourbon.

What Are the Different Types of Bourbon?

Standing before a bourbon shelf can be overwhelming, but understanding the label is your map to a great choice. Each bottle tells a story, from its broad category—straight, blended, or single barrel—to its age and proof. Knowing the different types of bourbon helps you to find the flavors that will resonate with your taste. Here’s a quick run-through.

Straight bourbon is made from a 51% (minimum) corn-based mash and aged for at least two years in charred new oak barrels. The term “straight” means the product is free of color, flavor, or other additives.

Bottled in bond bourbon is made by a single distillery, within a single distillation season, matured for at least four years in a federally bonded (U.S) warehouse and bottled with an alcohol content of 100 U.S proof.

Wheated bourbon is made from a 51% (minimum) wheat-based mash and aged for at least two years in charred new oak barrels. Wheated bourbons are known for their soft, sweet flavor profiles.

High rye bourbon has a mash containing more than 51% rye, giving it a spicier and drier taste.

100% corn bourbon is entirely made from corn in the mash bill with a small addition of malted barely to aid fermentation. This results in a very sweet tasting spirit.

Four grain bourbon uses corn, malted barely, rye and wheat all in the same mash bill. This creates a more rounded flavor profile compared to other bourbons.

Barrel proof bourbon is bottled at the same alcohol percentage that it was removed from the barrel, at least 100 proof (50% ABV). This type of bourbon packs a punch and showcases the full intensity of the flavors and aromas.

Single barrel bourbon is bottled from a single aging barrel that has been personally selected by the distiller. These tend to have exemplary characteristics that stand on their own, without the need for blending with other barrels from the distillery’s warehouse.

Bourbon Cocktails to Try

Exploring the world of bourbon through cocktails is a great way to enjoy this classic American beverage. Whether you’re new to bourbon or a seasoned pro, mixing bourbon concoctions is a delightful way to appreciate the spirit’s adaptability. With its spicier profile, Rye bourbon makes for a lively twist in traditional recipes, adding complexity and zest to every glass.

1. Classic Bourbon Sour

Classic Bourbon Sour

The classic bourbon sour is a must-try for whiskey drinkers who savor a balance of sweet and tart. This cocktail combines bourbon with fresh lemon juice and a hint of sugar, often garnished with a cherry or an orange slice. The result is a refreshing drink highlighting the whiskey’s richness while awakening the palate with its citrusy zing.

Ingredients for a Classic Bourbon Sour:

  • 2 oz Bourbon whiskey
  • 3/4 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Simple syrup
  • Ice cubes
  • Cherry or orange slice for garnish


  1. In a shaker, combine 2 oz of bourbon whiskey, 3/4 oz of fresh lemon juice, and 1/2 oz of simple syrup.
  2. Fill the shaker with ice cubes and shake vigorously for about 15 seconds to chill and mix the ingredients well.
  3. Strain the mixture into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
  4. Garnish with a cherry or an orange slice.
  5. Serve immediately and enjoy the classic flavors of a Bourbon Sour cocktail.

2. The Refreshing Whiskey Smash

The Refreshing Whiskey Smash

A cousin to the mint julep, this refreshing and summery concoction is the perfect way to cool down and enjoy bourbon’s versatility on a warm day.

Ingredients for a Whiskey Smash:

  • 2 oz Bourbon whiskey
  • 4 Fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
  • 3 Lemon wedges
  • 1 oz Simple syrup
  • Ice cubes


  1. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the lemon wedges and mint leaves with the simple syrup to release their flavors.
  2. Add 2 oz of bourbon whiskey to the shaker.
  3. Fill the shaker with ice cubes and shake vigorously until well-chilled, about 10-15 seconds.
  4. Strain the mixture into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice.
  5. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
  6. Serve immediately, offering a refreshing blend of citrus, mint, and bourbon flavors ideal for any warm-weather gathering.

3. Timeless Bourbon Old Fashioned

Timeless Bourbon Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned cocktail captivates with its sublime balance of sweetness, bitter depth, and the rich, smooth undertones of bourbon, creating an elegant and sophisticated sip that transcends time.

Ingredients for a Bourbon Old Fashioned:

  • 2 oz Bourbon whiskey
  • 1 Sugar cube (or 1/2 tsp loose sugar)
  • Few dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 Orange peel
  • 1 Maraschino cherry (optional)
  • Ice cubes


  1. Place the sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass and saturate it with the bitters.
  2. Add a dash of plain water.
  3. Muddle these ingredients until the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Twist the orange peel over the glass to release its oils, then drop it into the glass.
  5. Add the bourbon whiskey to the glass.
  6. Fill the glass with large ice cubes and stir gently to combine, ensuring a chill without overly diluting the drink.
  7. If desired, garnish with a maraschino cherry.
  8. Serve and enjoy the rich, nuanced flavors of a classic bourbon Old Fashioned.

Pairing Food with Bourbon

Best Way to Drink Bourbon

Bourbon’s rich flavors make it an excellent companion to various foods. Try it with smoked meats that mirror its smoky undertones or sharp cheeses that contrast its sweetness for a savory pairing. Dark chocolate can enhance bourbon’s caramel notes, while a classic apple pie complements its warm vanilla hints. Pecans and bourbon are a natural match, sharing a similar balance of sweet and nutty flavors. These pairings delight the palate and enhance the overall tasting experience, creating a harmonious blend of tastes and aromas.

Bourbon Beyond the Glass: Culinary Adventures

A whiskey lover’s delight doesn’t end at the bottom of the glass; mixing bourbon into your culinary ventures can add a complex twist to your favorite dishes. Imagine bourbon-infused barbecue sauce or a bourbon pecan pie, where the spirit’s rich sweetness enhances and transforms the taste, creating new and unforgettable flavor profiles. Bourbon-infused dishes offer a gourmet approach to enjoying this beloved spirit beyond the glass, from savory meats marinated in bourbon’s smoky depths to desserts drizzled with its caramel sweetness.

Selecting the Right Glassware for Bourbon

The glass you choose is more than a vessel; it’s a partner in your bourbon journey. With its wide bowl and tapered mouth, a Glencairn or rocks glass enhances the nosing experience, inviting the bourbon’s aromas to gracefully tease your senses. The right glass elevates the visual appeal and concentrates the bouquet, making each sip a richer encounter.

The glass’s shape isn’t just for aesthetics; it’s designed to unlock the full potential of the bourbon, marrying form and function in a symphony of sensory delight. Choose wisely; your glass will become a trusted companion on your bourbon discovery journey.

Pouring and Appreciating the Aroma

The pouring is a moment of anticipation, the gentle glug of liquid hitting glass a prelude to the enjoyment. As you pour, watch how the bourbon clings to the side, hinting at its body and texture, beckoning you to lean in closer and savor the aroma that begins to rise.

This first encounter sets the stage for the tasting, as the complex scents of vanilla, oak, and toffee prepare your palate for the story that each sip will tell.

Visual Delight: Observing Bourbon’s Hue

Gazing into your glass of bourbon reveals a spectrum of amber and gold, each shade a clue to the spirit’s journey from barrel to bottle. The color, a visual delight, reflects the time spent aging, the type of char on the barrels, and the care taken during distillation. Like watching a sunset, observing bourbon’s hue is an experience to be savored, a moment of calm before the tasting storm.

As you tilt and turn the glass, watch how the light plays with the liquid, casting a warm glow that promises a depth of flavor. 

Bourbon Flavors

Bourbon’s flavor is a complex blend of notes that create a harmonious symphony for your taste buds. Each element, from grain to barrel, plays its part in crafting the final profile that makes bourbon an ever-evolving sensory adventure.

Renowned bourbon critic Fred Minnick often speaks of the spirit’s vast flavor profiles, a testament to the diverse expressions within the bourbon world. From the earthy undertones of the grains to the sweet whispers of aged wood, each bourbon presents a unique profile. 

Grain-Forward Bouquets

The grains are the foundation, the starting point from which all bourbon flavors blossom. A grain-forward bouquet offers a nod to the fields and the farmers, a hearty handshake between the earth and your senses. The corn, rye, wheat, and barley each lend their voice to the chorus, creating a grainy melody that speaks of bourbon’s agricultural roots.

What is bourbon made from?

The Sweetness of Caramel Notes

Amidst the symphony of flavors, the sweetness of caramel notes stands out, offering a comforting embrace. This rich, sugary character comes from the charred barrels, a gift from the wood to the whiskey. As the bourbon ages, it draws out these caramel tones, layering them into the spirit like a confectioner folding syrup into a decadent dessert.

Spice Elements: Nutmeg and Cinnamon

The warm hug of spice elements, such as nutmeg and cinnamon, weaves through the bourbon’s profile, adding a lively kick to the sweet melody. These spices, along with the subtle zest of orange peel, are often the result of the mash bills’ careful composition. They pirouette across your palate, a dance of heat and flavor, bringing balance and complexity to each sip.

Best Way to Drink Bourbon

Bourbon Etiquette

Drinking bourbon, like any other spirit, comes with its own set of etiquettes that enhance the experience for both yourself and those around you. Here are some guidelines to follow.

Proper Manners When Drinking Bourbon

  1. Respect the Bourbon: Treat bourbon with respect. Appreciate the craftsmanship and tradition that goes into its production.
  2. Sip, Don’t Guzzle: Bourbon is meant to be sipped and savored, not knocked back like a shot. Take small sips and allow the flavors to develop on your palate.
  3. Avoid Mixing with Ice: While some people enjoy bourbon on the rocks, purists argue that ice dilutes the flavor and alters the experience. If you prefer your bourbon chilled, consider using whiskey stones or chilling the glass instead.
  4. Engage with Others: Drinking bourbon can be a social experience. Engage in conversation with fellow bourbon enthusiasts, share tasting notes, and enjoy the camaraderie.
  5. Moderation is Key: Bourbon, like any alcoholic beverage, should be enjoyed in moderation. Know your limits and drink responsibly.

How to Order Bourbon at a Bar

Ordering bourbon at a bar can be straightforward if you know what you want and how to communicate your preferences. Follow these steps to ensure a smooth ordering process:

  1. Know What You Like: Before approaching the bar, have an idea of the type of bourbon you want to try. Consider the flavor profile and whether you prefer it neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.
  2. Ask for Recommendations: If you’re unsure or open to trying something new, don’t hesitate to ask the bartender for recommendations based on your preferences.
  3. Specify Your Preferences: When ordering, be clear about how you’d like your bourbon served. For example, you might say, “I’ll have a neat pour of [bourbon brand]” or “Can I get a bourbon sour, please?”
  4. Be Patient and Courteous: If the bar is busy, be patient while waiting for your order. Avoid waving money or snapping your fingers to get the bartender’s attention. Instead, make eye contact and wait your turn.
  5. Tip Appropriately: If you receive good service, consider leaving a tip as a token of appreciation.

Bourbon Tasting Etiquette at Events or Distilleries

Participating in bourbon tastings at events or distilleries can be an enriching experience. Here’s how to navigate bourbon-tasting etiquette:

  1. Listen to the Host: If there’s a host or guide leading the tasting, listen attentively to their instructions and insights about each bourbon being sampled.
  2. Use the Proper Glassware: When provided, use the designated glassware for tasting bourbon, such as a Glencairn glass or a tulip-shaped glass that concentrates the aromas.
  3. Take Your Time: Don’t rush through the tasting. Take your time to observe the color, swirl the bourbon to release its aromas, and savor each sip.
  4. Stay Hydrated and Pace Yourself: Drink water between tastings to cleanse your palate and stay hydrated. Pace yourself to fully appreciate each bourbon without becoming intoxicated.
  5. Refrain from Making Negative Comments: Even if a certain bourbon isn’t to your liking, refrain from making negative comments that could detract from others’ enjoyment. Everyone’s palate is different, and respectful discourse enhances the tasting experience.
  6. Engage with Others: If attending a group tasting, engage with fellow participants by sharing your thoughts and listening to theirs. Bourbon tastings can foster interesting discussions and connections with other enthusiasts.

By following these etiquette guidelines, you can enhance your enjoyment of bourbon while respecting the traditions and community surrounding this beloved spirit

Bourbon FAQ’s

1. What’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey? 

Bourbon is a unique type of American whiskey with specific criteria: it must be made in the U.S., contain at least 51% corn in the mash bill, be aged in new charred oak barrels for at least 2 years, and be without additives. Whiskey is an umbrella term that describes spirits distilled from fermented grain mash which includes various kinds of bourbon as well as American or Irish whiskey.

2. How long should bourbon be aged? 

Legally, bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years to be called straight bourbon. However, many distillers age their bourbon for four years or more to develop a richer, more complex flavor profile. The aging process is crucial as it imparts distinct flavors from the charred oak barrels.

3. Can bourbon only be made in Kentucky? 

While Kentucky is renowned for its bourbon, it can be made anywhere in the United States. The state’s unique limestone water and climate contribute to the distinctive taste of Kentucky bourbon, but excellent bourbons also come from other states, showcasing the spirit’s versatility.

4. What does ‘bottled-in-bond’ mean? 

Bottled-in-bond is a designation for bourbons that adhere to legal regulations established by the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. These bourbons must be the product of one distillation season, from one distiller, at one distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years, and bottled at exactly 100 proof.

5. Is it better to drink bourbon neat or with ice? 

The best way to drink bourbon is subjective and depends on personal preference. Drinking it neat allows you to taste the bourbon’s full flavor profile, while adding ice, known as ‘on the rocks,’ slowly dilutes and mellows the spirit, making it easier to drink for some palates.

6. What are some popular bourbon cocktails? 

Some popular bourbon cocktails include the Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, Manhattan, and the Whiskey Sour. These cocktails highlight bourbon’s versatility and can be tailored to individual tastes, whether you prefer them sweet, sour, or with a herbal undertone.

Final Thoughts on the Best Way to Drink Bourbon

The proper way to drink bourbon is the way that brings you the most pleasure.

Whether it’s the char and wood of the barrel singing through a dram of Elijah Craig served at room temperature or the heat and spice of a high-proof batch of bourbon tickling your palate, bourbon appreciation is a personal journey.

Glasses with wider mouths can enhance your ability to smell the bourbon, revealing layers of vanilla and spice that mingle with the notes from malted barley. 

For those who prefer a softer experience, a wheated bourbon, which swaps wheat for rye in the grain combination, might be perfect, allowing some sweetness to balance the spirit’s robust character.

Remember, there’s no shame in a splash of water or ice if that’s your preferred method; it can release new flavors and let them play on your tongue.

Ultimately, the best way to drink bourbon is the way that you enjoy it most.

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