Ask any bourbon distiller what the best way to taste or sip bourbon is, and you’ll probably get quite the blend of answers. However, we can all agree that no matter how you drink it–sipped, shot, on the rocks, neat, etc.–all that matters is that you enjoy it.
And how can you find out which bourbon or variant you enjoy the most? By learning how to tell the complex flavors apart from one another through a proper bourbon tasting.
There are three key steps to bourbon tasting.
Step 1: The Sniff
Ever notice how cats seem to smell with their mouths open sometimes? It’s weird. But it’s also effective. After pouring a few swigs into a glass, gently cup your hand over the top of the glass, leaving a small opening for your nose. As you start to sniff, slightly open your mouth and take a nice breath in through both your mouth and your nose.
It may take a few tries, but soon you’ll be able to recognize some of the aromas. Common smells include fruit and floral notes and cereal or wheat. Does it smell sweet or woodsy? How about notes of wine or other spirits? Bourbons, whiskeys, and all their variants are very complex. So, it’s pretty normal for one smell to dominate others or to discover many different scents in one pour.
Step 2: The Chew
The first sip of bourbon isn’t a sip at all. It’s a ‘chew.’ Because of the high alcohol content, our taste buds need a chance to warm up to the liquor. So, when you take that first sip, instead of swallowing it right away, you should let it sit in your mouth, swish it around, and “chew” on it for 3-5 seconds before swallowing. This is a crucial step because you don’t want to judge a bourbon by its first sip.
But now your entire palate is awake, so let’s move on to the actual first taste.
Step 3: The Sip That Counts
To begin tasting the complexity of your bourbon, take a second and even a third sip. As it coats your entire tongue and mouth, begin to notice where the reactions are taking place. Is it the back of your tongue? The side, the front? Where’s the heat? Is it a smooth or a harsh finish? What flavors are you noticing? Any chocolate or fruit flavors? Does it taste oaky or sweet?
The best part about bourbon tasting is there is no wrong answer. While there are intentions masterfully created and crafted by professionals, taste and preferences are subjective to each individual.
Bonus Step: Rinse and Repeat
Of course, you can’t find out which bourbon or blend you like best without trying out more than one! We’re a bit biased, but our suggestion is to grab a bottle of each Daviess County variety.
The Daviess County Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey features notes of honey, caramel, and vanilla.
The Daviess County Cabernet Sauvignon Finish adds notes of fruit and oak.
And, finally, the Daviess County French Oak Finish provides hints of chocolate and oak spice notes.
No matter which you decide to taste, the key is to cleanse your palette with a bit of water before moving onto the next delicious drink. Another great way to bring out different flavors is by adding a few drops of water or ice to your bourbon. You might just discover your new favorite way of enjoying a classic dark spirit.