I can’t tell you how often I have shared bourbon with friends only to have them respond, "That is too hot," or, they will say, “I only taste the alcohol." Unfortunately, many people do not like bourbon or other high-proof spirits because they cannot tolerate the heat of the alcohol. Also, those new to bourbon tasting often complain that they don’t get the variety of flavors from the whiskey that others say they do. Why is this? The reason is that, usually, the person is not drinking the whiskey correctly.
First, you must understand that you do not drink bourbons like a cocktail or another type of non-alcoholic drink. There is a specific way of drinking bourbons, especially if you want to get a true, full experience and enjoy it. If you drink whiskey the proper way, it will greatly enhance your Bourbon experience.
How to Smell Bourbon
First, remember that the nose and the tongue work in harmony to influence the tasting experience. Before you taste the whiskey, nose it or smell the aroma. Try to determine the different smells that you sense. Additionally, while you’re nosing the spirit, keep your mouth open. Keeping your mouth open when you drink enhances the sense of smell. To see the difference, nose a glass of whiskey for about one minute with your mouth closed. During this process, now open your mouth and keep nosing the same bourbon. You will immediately sense a change in what you smell once your mouth is open. After nosing the bourbon for a couple of minutes then you can taste it.
- Nose the whiskey for a minute or so. See what notes (different smells) you can find.
- Set the glass down for 30 seconds to one minute. Do not taste it yet.
- Nose the whiskey again and see if you detect new aromas. Remember to keep your mouth open while detecting aromas.
- After taking your first sip, smell the whiskey again.
- Nose the bourbon or whiskey after every other sip.
How to Taste Bourbon
Begin by sipping the bourbon from the glass as if you were drinking it through a straw. Let the bourbon coat the front of your tongue first. Then, move the bourbon back over the remainder of your tongue while pulling air in through your mouth to ensure that the bourbon coats the right, left, and top sides of your tongue. It is important to understand that the sense of sweetness comes from the tip of your tongue. People who drink whiskey often bypass that part of the tongue, and the whiskey will initially contact the top middle portion of the tongue. This is the wrong way to drink bourbon.
Allowing the bourbon to coat your tongue from the tip of the tongue to the back of your tongue also helps minimize the burn. By the time the whiskey reaches the back of your throat, it will have mixed with saliva and decreased the proof or alcohol content of the bourbon, making it feel smoother.
One of the worst experiences for any whiskey drinker, even a seasoned bourbon enthusiast, is to inadvertently cough or choke a little while drinking a high-proof bourbon. In those situations, the bourbon will often go directly to the back of the throat, bypassing the tongue, and you will feel like rushing to the burn unit of the nearest hospital.
Drinking whiskey is an enjoyable and educational experience. These few minor changes to how you drink bourbon or other whiskeys will greatly enhance your experience.