How To Drink Bourbon For Beginners (2023 Updated)

Last Updated on August 22, 2023 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.


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.

So, How Do Beginners Drink Bourbon?

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.   



Lydia Martin

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.

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