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How To Drink Bourbon For Beginners (2024 Updated)

How To Drink Bourbon For Beginners

Last Updated on March 13, 2024 by Lydia Martin

Bourbon has been around for centuries, but its popularity has surged and dipped over the past decades. However, this native spirit has bounced back like a champ in late 2021. The Bourbon Boom took off smoothly, and it seems like it’s headed to a more stable stay at the peak this time. 

If you are down to try drinking bourbon for the first time, this ultimate guide on how to drink bourbon for beginners will turn you into a pro in a snap.

4 Steps on How To Drink Bourbon (Beginners Edition) 

4 Steps on How To Drink Bourbon (Beginners Edition) 

1. General Rule

Use Your Nose

Sniffing the bourbon

Start your bourbon journey by wafting the bourbon gently under your nose. Slightly open your mouth, place it directly over the rocks glass, and breathe in. Sniffing the bourbon using your mouth is the best way to smell it, as the aromas will also enter your palate. Notice if it has earthy notes, fruity notes, floral notes, or spices.


Tease your palate with a quick sip to let the bourbon roll around your mouth and over your tongue. Then, gently smack your lips. This method is often referred to as the Kentucky Chew, coined by a whiskey writer to describe how Fred Noe, Jim Beam Master Distiller’s [1] father tasted bourbon.  

It shall be followed by a Kentucky Hug, where the bourbon will warm you up as the spirit goes down after being swallowed. 

Sip, Swirl, & Chew

A glass of bourbon

When your palate becomes ready, you can now take a true sip of the spirit. Do not make a huge swallow, just a little larger than the sip you first made to ready your palate. Then, swirl the bourbon inside your mouth, and let it roll over as the bourbon coats it.

Make a subtle chewing motion as the bourbon moves around your entire palate. This step will help you identify the bourbon’s exquisite flavors using the various areas of your mouth.

Swallow & Exhale

The last step would be the most exciting part. You may smack your lips a time or two to feel its finish. You’ll feel a warm sensation, enhancing the bourbon’s flavors inside your mouth. 

Then, slowly exhale through your mouth (not your nose) to let the bourbon aroma particles move past your olfactory bulbs again. This method shall dispel the alcohol build-up you just experienced as you tasted the bourbon.

2. Choose Your Style

Go “Neat”

bourbon in neat glass

Most experts claim that the best way to taste bourbon is by having it neat, without anything else added.

Having neat bourbon lets bourbon drinkers, especially beginners, feel and taste more flavor. But should you drink bourbon with ice?

On The Rocks

If you are uncomfortable tasting the bourbon neat, you may opt to add regular ice cubes into your shot glass of bourbon to dilute it.

Like water, an ice cube may also help enhance the bourbon’s flavor. This style gives the drinker a smoother bourbon taste and finish. 

3. Try It In Cocktails

Mint Julep 

Mint Julep

Although bourbon whiskey is supposed to be enjoyed neat, trying it in cocktail recipes is also a great choice. This bourbon cocktail is made from bourbon, water, sugar, and spearmint. It may be light on the palate, but it could still give you an unexpected punch.


The Manhattan cocktail is also one of the best ways to enjoy bourbon. It uses bourbon, bitters, and sweet vermouth. This cocktail is a staple at most bourbon bars, typically served in a martini glass or Glencairn glass. 

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4. Enjoy With Friends

No matter how detailed you sip your bourbon, the best bourbon journey always starts with trying it with your friends. It’ll be more enjoyable to call your friends who haven’t sipped any bourbon and do a taste test

How To Drink Bourbon When It’s Too Strong? 

The best way to drink (straight or blended) bourbon whiskey when it’s too strong is by adding water. Adding water enhances the bourbon’s flavors, sweetens it, and makes it easier for beginners to evaluate it.

Just pour a glass of bourbon into a glass, take a small sip, then add a few drops of water, then swirl it again in the glass. Then, try sipping the bourbon again. You may also opt to put water into your mouth before sipping the bourbon. Some distilleries, like Buffalow Trace Distillery, encourage this method.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is bourbon good for beginners?

Yes, bourbon is good for beginners because most bourbons are smooth. In fact, it’s even smoother than other whiskeys because bourbon ages in new charred oak barrels. It has a mash bill of 51% corn and rye, wheat, or malted barley and 80% alcohol by volume. The longer the bourbon spends in oak barrels, the smoother it gets.

What cocktail is best for beginners?

Bourbon can be used in many cocktails, but Mint Julep and The Manhattan bourbon cocktails are some of the best for beginners. They are easy to make and considered year-round staples in most bars.

What is the proper way to drink bourbon?

The proper way to drink bourbon involves savoring its flavors and aromas; start by selecting a high-quality bourbon, serve it in a tulip-shaped glass to concentrate the aromas, take a moment to observe the color, gently swirl the bourbon to release aromas, inhale, take small sips to appreciate the nuances, and savor the lingering finish.

How do you drink bourbon whiskey for beginners?

For beginners, it’s advisable to start with small sips of a mild and approachable bourbon, preferably served at room temperature; consider adding a few drops of water to open up the flavors, and experiment with the aroma by gently swirling the glass before taking a sip, allowing for a gradual introduction to the complexities of bourbon.

What do you mix with bourbon?

Bourbon is a versatile spirit that pairs well with various mixers; classic options include cola for a Bourbon and Coke, ginger ale for a Bourbon Buck, or sweet vermouth and bitters for a classic Manhattan; however, purists may prefer enjoying bourbon neat or with a splash of water to appreciate its inherent flavors.

How do most people drink bourbon?

The way people drink bourbon varies based on personal preferences; some enjoy it neat or on the rocks to savor the full flavor profile, while others opt for classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned or Mint Julep; additionally, bourbon is commonly used in mixed drinks like the Whiskey Sour or Boulevardier, showcasing its versatility in the world of cocktails.

Do you refrigerate bourbon?

Refrigerating bourbon is generally unnecessary, as the alcohol content acts as a preservative; storing it in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight is preferable, ensuring the spirit maintains its flavor profile and doesn’t undergo temperature-related changes that could affect its quality.

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon?

Jack Daniel’s, while often associated with bourbon, is technically classified as Tennessee whiskey; the key distinction lies in the additional step known as the Lincoln County Process, where the whiskey undergoes charcoal filtering before aging, contributing to its unique smoothness.

Should I drink bourbon with ice?

Whether to drink bourbon with ice is a matter of personal preference; some prefer it neat to savor the full flavor profile, while others enjoy the slight dilution and temperature adjustment that ice provides, highlighting different nuances; ultimately, it comes down to individual taste and the experience one seeks.

Do you sip or shoot bourbon?

Sipping bourbon is generally the preferred method to fully appreciate its complexities; taking small sips allows the drinker to savor the flavors, aromas, and the intricate finish, enhancing the overall experience, whereas shooting bourbon, while a quicker consumption method, may not allow for the nuanced appreciation that sipping provides.

Do you add water to bourbon?

Adding water to bourbon is a subjective choice that depends on personal preference; while some enthusiasts believe it can enhance and open up the flavors, others prefer to enjoy bourbon neat to savor its undiluted complexity.

Should I add water to a bourbon drink?

Whether to add water to a bourbon drink is a matter of personal taste; some people appreciate the subtle changes it can bring, such as mellowing out the alcohol intensity and revealing additional flavors, while others prefer the full-strength experience of drinking bourbon neat or on the rocks.

What is the difference between whiskey and bourbon?

While all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon; the key distinctions lie in the production process and location; bourbon must be made in the United States, contain at least 51% corn in its mash bill, be distilled to no more than 160 proof, and be aged in new charred oak barrels, contributing to its unique flavor profile.

Do you sip or shoot bourbon?

Sipping bourbon is the preferred method among enthusiasts who seek to appreciate its intricate flavors and aromas; taking small sips allows for a more nuanced experience, letting the drinker explore the various notes and the complexity of the spirit, whereas shooting bourbon may not allow for the same level of appreciation.Top of Form

So, How To Drink Bourbon For Beginners?

Beginners may drink straight bourbon any way they want to, but from an expert’s point of view, following a few steps to drink straight bourbon whiskey won’t hurt. It’s always important to know the bourbon basics in drinking bourbon or the drinking styles the first-time bourbon drinker wants to try.

Good beginner bourbons include a high rye bourbon, bottled-in-bond, high-corn bourbon, wheated bourbon, and small-batch bourbon. No matter what style you choose, the bourbon whiskey flavors will always turn you into a true bourbon lover.   


  1. Freddie Noe Announced As 8th Generation Master Distiller During Celebration Event Of The James B. Beam Distilling Company
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