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How To Do a Bourbon Tasting: Full Guide (2024 Updated)

how to do a bourbon tasting

Last Updated on February 24, 2024 by Lydia Martin

As easy as it sounds, bourbon tasting is just drinking bourbon, right? However, bourbon tasting is a special way to appreciate the spirit’s specific flavors and unique characteristics, different from “just” drinking bourbon.

If you are new to the bourbon world, you’ve come to the right place because we will teach you how to do a bourbon tasting like a pro. 

4 Steps on How To Do A Bourbon Tasting 

4 Steps on How To Do A Bourbon Tasting 

1. Always Judge On The 3rd Sip

Always Judge On The 3rd Sip

Bourbons are made of corn, malted barley, and rye or wheat. When tasting bourbon, always judge the third sip because the first will always be a bad indicator. Bourbon contains at least 40% ABV, so let your taste buds warm up to the heat. 

The first sip is always hot so take a minute before taking the second. The second sip will be much gentler, and the flavors will start to come through. The third sip will get you into the deep flavor of bourbon, and that’s the right time to judge.

2. Chew The Liquid Around Your Whole Mouth

Want to taste bourbon like a pro? Connoisseurs and whiskey distillers use Kentucky Chew as popularized by Booker Noe. Taste a small amount of bourbon, work it around your whole mouth for a few seconds and smack your lips as if you are chewing on the liquid. 

If you chew the liquid, it will coat your entire mouth, and in the way, you could assess all the flavors and finish the bourbon whiskey. The human tongue has different areas meant to appreciate different flavors [1]. 

3. Cleanse Your Palate With Water

Cleanse Your Palate With Water

It would be best to always clean your tongue with water when tasting fine bourbons before switching to the next bourbon. Water is a good palate cleanser, so the previous bourbon will not influence the next one even at the slightest remnant. 

If you remove the residue of bourbons on your tongue, you can be more accurate in assessing a new flavor.

If you host tastings, guests would also love to cleanse their tongues with food, so don’t forget to put cheese and chips on your shopping list. Here are some of the best snacks for a bourbon tasting

4. Always Start With Lower Proof

If you want to taste bourbon like a pro, always start from low to high proof to give your tastebuds a chance to adjust. If you start with a higher proof, nothing will be left for others. 

Moreso, you should try adding a few drops of water because it helps open up the aromas and flavors of the whiskey. You will be impressed with how a mix of distilled water from a water glass improves your favorite bourbon flavor profile. 

2 Types of Bourbon Tasting Methods


Comparison tasting is a tasting method where you can pick different types of bourbon from one distillery.

You can compare every bottling from one distillery over the years in comparison tasting. In this way, you can sense how the yearly climate affects distilled drink production.


Glasses of Bourbon

Horizontal tasting is a method of picking the same type of bourbon from different distilleries. You can have bottles of bourbons from the same region, year, and varietal, and all that changes will be the distiller.

What To Consider 


The first thing you will notice in a bottle of bourbon will be the appearance. Should you gently swirl the glass and observe its appearance-is it cloudy or clear?

Notice its color; is it deep brown or light yellow? The appearance can indicate how long it has been aged in charred barrels.


Bourbon Bottle with glass

Aroma is another thing to consider because our sense of smell is 80% responsible for what we taste. Keep your lips slightly parted and inhale above the whiskey glass. You can identify which notes are dominant in the nose- spicy, herbal, floral, or oak. 

Bourbon Glass

The bourbon glass plays a vital role when tasting bourbon because most glasses are engineered to enhance the aroma and taste of the drink. It would be ideal for getting a glass with a tapered mouth that directs the aroma to be fully appreciated. 

Glencairn is a highly recommended tasting glass because it has a wide and round base that helps make swirling effective and easy. Its narrow neck allows the aroma to gather under the rim of the bourbon glass, straight to your nose.

Tasting Notes

Stop gulping bourbon because it is not coffee or soda; you will miss the chance to taste and savor the bourbon flavor.

Take small sips and roll them in your mouth and tongue like you are chewing, so you naturally taste the notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak. 


After swallowing the bourbon, the last thing you should consider is the finish of the bourbon. Does the bourbon have a short or long finish?

Observe if it lingers long, gives warmth throughout your body, or is it more of a burn?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much do you pour for a bourbon tasting?

It would be best to put half an ounce of bourbon per glass when doing bourbon tasting. The purpose of tasting is to learn the product, so half an ounce is good to go. 

Do you sniff before you taste bourbon?

Yes, it would be best to sniff before you taste the bourbon. After you swirl the glass with bourbon, you can smell its aroma, which will prepare your tongue when tasting it. 

How do you breathe when drinking bourbon?

When drinking bourbon, breathe in through your nose, then exhale long and smooth through your mouth. A controlled breath will prevent alcohol from exploding in your sinuses.

What’s the proper way to taste bourbon?

To properly taste bourbon, follow these steps: start by observing its color, then bring it to your nose to inhale the aromas, take a small sip, allowing it to coat your palate, and finally, analyze the flavors that unfold. Consider the balance of sweetness, spiciness, and any other nuanced notes present in the bourbon.

What are the components of a bourbon tasting?

A comprehensive bourbon tasting involves assessing its appearance, aroma, taste, and finish. The appearance includes the color and viscosity, while the aroma involves inhaling and identifying the various scents. During the tasting, note the initial flavors, any changes as it coats the palate, and the overall balance. The finish evaluates the lingering tastes and sensations after swallowing.

How do you make bourbon taste?

To enhance the taste of bourbon, consider factors like glassware, serving temperature, and even aeration. Opt for a tulip-shaped glass to concentrate aromas, serve it neat or with a bit of water at room temperature, and let it breathe for a few minutes to unlock flavors. Experimenting with different bourbons and paying attention to personal preferences also contributes to refining the taste experience.

How do you make something taste like bourbon?

While nothing can replicate the exact taste of bourbon, you can create a bourbon-like flavor by combining certain elements. Start with a neutral base like vodka, then add a touch of sweetness, such as simple syrup or honey, and incorporate some vanilla and caramel notes using extracts or flavorings. Experimenting with small quantities allows you to adjust the flavor to your liking.

Is bourbon a sweet or bitter drink?

Bourbon is known for its balanced and complex flavor profile, which often includes both sweet and spicy notes. While it is not inherently bitter, certain bourbons may exhibit bitterness, especially in the finish. The sweetness in bourbon comes from the caramelized sugars in the charred oak barrels used for aging. Ultimately, the taste can vary widely among different bourbons, with some leaning more towards sweetness, others towards spiciness, and many achieving a harmonious combination of both.

What are three ways to drink bourbon?

Bourbon is a versatile spirit, and there are several ways to enjoy it:

Neat: Sipping bourbon neat allows you to appreciate its full flavor profile without any dilution, offering a pure and unadulterated experience.

On the Rocks: Pouring bourbon over ice can slightly chill and dilute the spirit, mellowing its intensity and enhancing certain flavor notes.

In Cocktails: Bourbon is a key ingredient in various classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or Mint Julep, where its robust flavor complements other ingredients to create a well-balanced drink.

What are the 4 ingredients in bourbon?

Bourbon must be made with a minimum of 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels. The other three essential ingredients are:

Water: Used in the mashing, fermentation, and dilution processes.

Yeast: Initiates fermentation, converting sugars into alcohol and contributing to the flavor profile.

Barley: Adds enzymes crucial for the fermentation process.

Rye or Wheat: Used alongside corn in the mash bill to impart specific flavor characteristics.

What are the 5 characteristics of bourbon?

Bourbon is known for its distinct characteristics:

Sweetness: Bourbon exhibits a natural sweetness, attributed to the caramelized sugars from the charred oak barrels used during aging.

Vanilla Notes: Aging in new charred oak barrels imparts vanilla flavors to bourbon, contributing to its complexity.

Spiciness: Bourbons often have a spicy kick, especially those with a higher rye content in their mash bill.

Full-bodied: The mouthfeel of bourbon is often described as full-bodied, providing a rich and substantial drinking experience.

Caramel and Oak Tones: Bourbon develops caramel and oak undertones during the aging process, further enhancing its flavor profile.

What are the 5 keys to making bourbon?

The key elements in bourbon production include:

Mash Bill: The combination of grains used in the mash, with at least 51% being corn, determines the bourbon’s flavor profile.

Distillation: Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof.

New Charred Oak Barrels: Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels, imparting essential flavors and colors to the spirit.

Aging: To be called straight bourbon, the spirit must be aged for at least two years, with no added colors or flavors.

Bottling Proof: Bourbon is typically bottled at a minimum of 80 proof, preserving its integrity and character.

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon?

No, Jack Daniel’s is not classified as a bourbon. It is a Tennessee whiskey. While it shares similarities with bourbon, such as being predominantly corn-based and aged in new charred oak barrels, Jack Daniel’s undergoes an additional step known as the Lincoln County Process. This involves filtering the whiskey through sugar maple charcoal before aging, giving it a distinct smoothness. The use of this extra step disqualifies Jack Daniel’s from being labeled as bourbon.

Pour, Sniff, & Sip! 

Tasting the bourbon in the right way allows you to appreciate more of the complex flavor and aroma of the bourbon than consuming it straight up. Remember to judge on the third sip, chew the liquid, rinse your palate and start at the low abv. 

Now that you are ready to host bourbon tasting, it’s time to head to the local liquor store, score a bottle of single barrel and small batch bourbon, prepare some food and have some fun with friends! 


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