In part one of this blog series, we discussed the current boom in the bourbon industry. This growth is creating new opportunities for restaurant and bar owners. In part two, we will discuss how to enjoy bourbon by tasting. So how do you taste, drink, and enjoy bourbon? Because bourbon is so versatile, there are many different ways to enjoy it. And there are many types of glassware to enjoy it with. First, we will look at glassware for tasting.

The Glencairn Glass

Glencairn Glass - Perfect for Bourbon TastingThe most common type of glass used for tasting bourbon is the Glencairn style glass. The bowl of the glass allows the taster to tilt the glass and observe the color of the whiskey. The shape of the glass helps to deliver the aromas to the nose. The thick base allows the taster to hold the glass without warming the bourbon with the hand. The base also allows for swirling. Swirling does two things. First, it opens up the flavors of the bourbon. Second, it allows you to observe the “legs” or the tears that trickle down the sides of the glass when swirled.


With the proper tasting glass, there are a few steps to follow to get the most out of the tasting experience. First, hold the glass up and tilt it to observe the color. Tilting allows the bourbon to take up more surface area in the glass and makes the color easier to observe. The darker the color of the bourbon, the older it is. As the bourbon spends more time in the oak barrel, it takes on more and more color. The color is also related to the proof of the bourbon. Remember, distillers may barrel their bourbon as high as 125 proof, and bottle it as low as 80 proof. They add water to lower the alcohol content. The more water they add, the lighter in color the spirit becomes. So a darker bourbon is indicative of higher alcohol content.

Swirling and Nosing

Next, swirl the glass for a few revolutions. This will introduce a little more air into the glass, open up the flavors, and allow you to observe the legs. The trickling effect of the legs is the result of surface tension as the fluid and ethanol evaporate. Longer and slower legs are a sign of a more complex whiskey. A whiskey with long legs tends to also have more pronounced flavors and aromas.

After you have observed and swirled, it is time for “nosing”. Bring the glass to your nose, open your mouth slightly, and inhale through the nose. Opening the mouth releases tension on the olfactory glands. It enhances your ability to pick up on the nuances of the aromas. It also allows you to breathe in from both the nose and the mouth. This is helpful if you are nosing a higher proof bourbon so your senses are not overloaded by alcohol fumes.

Bourbon Tasting Techniques

Finally, it is time to taste. Take a sip of the bourbon and allow it to coat your entire palate. Take note of any prominent flavors and how they compare to the aromas. Did you pick up any tasting notes that you did not detect from the aromas? If you are struggling to get beyond the “burn” of the alcohol, there are a couple of techniques you can use. First, you hold the rim of the glass up to your lips, purse your lips like you are about to whistle and inhale sharply. Do this a couple times. This helps to clear some of the ethanol that is coming off of the whiskey as the alcohol evaporates.

Another thing you can do is “bloom” the bourbon. By adding just a couple drops of water, or a small chip of ice, you dilute the alcohol, and the flavors open up more. After trying one or both of these techniques, give the bourbon another taste. See if you detect any differences in the flavors or any new notes.

Remember, bourbon is not meant to be stuffy. Bourbon is social and accessible to everyone. There is no wrong answer. You may taste cinnamon when others do not. Others may pick up on notes that you did not detect. That is part of the fun of tasting bourbon. So, uncork a bottle or two with friends, and enjoy comparing aroma and tasting notes.

Bourbon Flights

Bourbon FlightOne creative way to offer tastings is with bourbon “flights”. For one price, you offer three or four tastes of different bourbons. The Glencairn glass is perfect for serving flights. The more you know about the bourbons you offer, the more unique flights you can create. For example, you could have three bourbons from a single distillery with increasing ages. This would illustrate how bourbon takes on different characteristics as it ages.

Tasting is one of the most popular ways to enjoy bourbon, but it is not the only way. There are several different classic bourbon cocktails. Also, mixologists are creating new and exciting cocktails featuring bourbon every day. In part three, we will discuss other ways to enjoy bourbon with appropriate glassware. For more information, visit our store at 3110 Preston Hwy in Louisville, KY, or call us at 866-591-3463.

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