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How to Drink Bourbon Whisky: A Comprehensive Guide

Bourbon whisky, a distinctly American spirit, has a long and storied history dating back to the 18th century. Known for its rich, smooth flavors and amber hue, bourbon is a favorite among whisky enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Whether you’re a seasoned bourbon drinker or you’re just starting to explore the world of whisky, this guide will provide you with valuable insights into how to drink bourbon whisky and get the most out of your experience. We’ll cover everything from choosing the right glassware to exploring various tasting techniques. So, grab a bottle of your favorite bourbon whisky and let’s embark on a flavorful journey together.

Selecting the Right Glassware

The Glencairn Glass: This uniquely shaped glass, specifically designed for whisky tasting, allows you to fully appreciate the aroma and flavors of your bourbon. The Glencairn glass features a wide base for swirling the spirit and a tapered top to concentrate the aromas, making it perfect for nosing and sipping bourbon.

The Old Fashioned Glass: Also known as a rocks glass or a lowball glass, the Old Fashioned glass is a versatile and popular choice for enjoying bourbon. Its sturdy, wide base provides ample room for adding ice or crafting cocktails, while its straight sides make it easy to hold and sip.

The Whisky Tumbler: The whisky tumbler is another popular choice for enjoying bourbon. With a similar shape to the Old Fashioned glass, the tumbler typically features a thicker, heavier base, making it ideal for sipping bourbon neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.

Tasting Techniques: Neat, On the Rocks, and More

Neat: Drinking bourbon neat, or without any added water or ice, is the purest way to experience its flavors and aromas. To drink bourbon neat, pour a small amount (about 1-1.5 ounces) into your preferred glass, then swirl it gently to release the aromas. Take a moment to nose the bourbon, inhaling its scent before taking a small sip. Savor the flavors on your palate, then swallow slowly.

On the Rocks: Adding ice to your bourbon can help to mellow its flavors and make it more approachable, particularly for those new to the spirit. To enjoy bourbon on the rocks, simply add a few ice cubes to your glass and pour the bourbon over the top. As the ice melts, it will dilute the spirit slightly, changing its flavor profile.

With a Splash of Water: Adding a small amount of water to your bourbon can help to open up its flavors and aromas, making them more accessible. To drink bourbon with a splash of water, pour your desired amount of bourbon into a glass and add a few drops of room-temperature water. Experiment with the water-to-bourbon ratio to find your preferred balance.

Bourbon Whisky Cocktails

While bourbon can certainly be enjoyed on its own, it also serves as a fantastic base for a variety of classic and modern cocktails. Here are a few fan-favorite bourbon cocktails to try:

The Old Fashioned: A timeless classic, the Old Fashioned combines bourbon, sugar, Angostura bitters, and a twist of citrus peel to create a simple yet sophisticated cocktail. Muddle the sugar and bitters in an Old Fashioned glass, then add ice and bourbon. Stir gently, garnish with an orange or lemon peel, and enjoy.

The Whiskey Sour: This zesty and refreshing cocktail features bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup, shaken with ice and strained into a glass. For a frothy texture, add an egg white to the

shaker and perform a dry shake (without ice) before adding ice and shaking again. Strain the mixture into a glass, garnish with a cherry and an orange slice, and enjoy.

The Mint Julep: A quintessential Southern cocktail, the Mint Julep is perfect for warm weather sipping. Muddle fresh mint leaves and simple syrup in a glass, then add crushed ice and bourbon. Stir until the glass becomes frosty, top with more crushed ice, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

The Boulevardier: A cousin of the Negroni, the Boulevardier swaps gin for bourbon, resulting in a rich and bittersweet cocktail. Combine equal parts bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well-chilled, then strain into a glass and garnish with an orange twist.

Pairing Bourbon Whisky with Food

Bourbon’s rich and complex flavor profile makes it a fantastic pairing for a wide range of dishes. Here are some food pairing ideas to help you enhance your bourbon-drinking experience:

Barbecue: The smoky, sweet, and savory flavors of barbecue ribs, pulled pork, or brisket complement the caramel and vanilla notes in bourbon, making for a mouthwatering combination.

Chocolate: Dark chocolate, with its intense and slightly bitter flavors, pairs beautifully with the sweetness and warmth of bourbon. Try sipping your favorite bourbon alongside a piece of high-quality dark chocolate for a luxurious treat.

Cheese: Strong, flavorful cheeses like aged cheddar, Gouda, or blue cheese can stand up to the bold flavors of bourbon, creating a rich and satisfying pairing.

Desserts: The sweetness and warmth of bourbon make it a perfect companion for indulgent desserts like pecan pie, bread pudding, or crème brûlée. A small pour of bourbon can enhance the flavors of these classic sweets and add a touch of sophistication.


Bourbon whisky, with its rich history and diverse flavor profile, offers a world of possibilities for enjoyment. By selecting the right glassware, experimenting with different tasting techniques, exploring classic cocktails, and discovering food pairings, you can elevate your bourbon-drinking experience and deepen your appreciation for this iconic American spirit. Whether you’re a seasoned bourbon enthusiast or just starting your journey, there’s always something new to learn and savor in the world of bourbon whisky. Cheers!

Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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