Last Updated on February 28, 2023 by Lydia Martin
Bourbon’s taste can be hard to explain as every bottle from different brands varies depending on its mash bill and the aging process.
Some bourbons tend to be spicier, sweeter, or more delicate than others, so we set up a bourbon taste chart to help you categorize the common aromas and flavors of bourbon brands.
Bourbon Brand Taste Chart (Quick Summary)
- Old Forester
- Four Roses
- New Riff
- Basil Hayden
- Old Grand-Dad
- Very Old Barton
- Knob Creek
- EH Taylor
Smooth & Mellow
- High Wire Southern Revival
- Yellow Rose
Common Bourbon Flavor Profiles (In-Depth Breakdown)
Spicy rye is one of the common bourbon flavor profiles of whiskeys with high amounts of rye on its mash bill.
A typical bourbon contains around 12% of rye, but those bourbons with a spicy rye flavor profile usually contain around 20% to 35% rye on their mash bill.
Spicy rye provides a powerful spicy flavor profile along with fruity notes.
It is bolder and usually consumed on the rocks but helps elevate the taste of bourbon cocktails.
Most bourbons are sweet and release flavors like vanilla and caramel, which are evident in aroma and taste.
However, some bourbons are sweeter than others, and flavorings and colorings have nothing to do with this.
Some bourbons are sweeter than others because of their mash bill and the aging process. Sweet bourbons contain higher corn, around 70% – 80%, than the usual 51% .
Also, long aging in barrels makes bourbon sweeter. The aging process in charred oak barrels favors the flavor profile of the bourbon .
There are bourbon whiskeys that have a delicate flavor profile. It is smoother and more approachable than other bourbons as it inherits oak, vanilla, caramel, and honey flavors.
It has the right amount of sweetness and spiciness, and the depth of this flavor is delicate on the nose and palate.
Delicate bourbons do not burn your throat and can be well enjoyed neat. It is easy to enjoy as it has delicate and light-tasting notes.
Bourbon has nice characteristic flavors of oak, fruit, vanilla, spice, and honey, but there are bourbons with richer flavor profiles.
These bourbons have richer-tasting notes of caramel and vanilla that do not overwhelm the palate.
With a rich flavor profile, Bourbons have reached the sweet spot of aging. It has a rich sweetness, fruitiness, and oakiness and does not taste too young or too old.
Some bourbons tend to have more oak flavors than others. Bourbons are aged in newly charred American oak barrels.
Bourbon whiskeys are like a sponge, absorbing the flavor of the oak barrels as it ages longer.
“Bourbon has a depth of flavor that many other spirits lack,”– Lori Rice, Food Writer & Photographer
In addition, some bourbons undergo double barreling, which makes the bourbon oakier in aroma and taste.
For instance, some bourbons are aged with oak staves (Maker’s 46), and these bourbons tend to have an oakier taste than others.
Bourbon whiskey should be aged in newly charred oak barrels, and within that requirement, many variations affect the bourbon’s flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel.
The barrels used by distilleries for bourbon are American oak, but there are barrel specifications that allow distillers to make a unique product.
The charring and toast level give major results on the bourbon. The charred wood is more evident depending on the char level and length of aging inside the barrels.
Smooth & Mellow
Bourbon, in general, is undeniably smoother than whiskey. But there are smoother and mellow bourbons that are loved by many because it is more enjoyable to drink.
There are smooth and mellow bourbons because the distilleries use a higher percentage of corn on their mash bill, creating a softer and smoother taste than grains like rye.
In addition, there are bourbons made from mash bills of corn, barley, and wheat instead of rye.
Wheated bourbons tend to be smoother and mellow because of their mash bill.
The grains used for bourbon affect the taste of the distilled spirits. The dominating grain of bourbon whiskey is corn; with this, the sweet taste of corn provides a unique taste to the whiskey.
The brown buttered, creamy flavor and honey taste of bourbon come from the dominating grain of the whiskey.
While it is usually at 70% corn, some bourbons contain 100% corn for a sweeter and mellower taste.
These bourbons have bigger flavor notes of corn, vanilla, caramel, fruits, florals, and honey.
What does good bourbon taste like?
A good bourbon has a balanced taste of sweetness and spiciness, with rich notes of caramel, vanilla, and dried fruit. It has a nice flavor profile and an amazing mouthfeel.
Does bourbon’s taste change when cooked?
No, bourbon’s taste does not change when cooked. It contributes to enhancing the taste of your food. It enhances notes of caramel and vanilla and adds hints of oak to the food you cook.
Is bourbon bitter?
Not really. Bourbon has a nice balance of sweetness, spiciness, and boldness that balances out the bitterness of the alcohol.
With all the brands of bourbon in the market today, the bourbon taste chart will help you decide on which bottle to choose if you are after a specific flavor profile.
Not all bourbons are created the same, and the flavor profile varies depending on the mash bill, aging process, and blending of Master Distillers.
Whether you want a high proportion of rye or a generous amount of corn and wheat, there is a right bottle for you.
Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here.