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Sipping Without the Chill: What Do You Call Bourbon Without Ice?

a banner for bourbon without ice

Last Updated on October 25, 2023 by Lydia Martin

As a bourbon enthusiast, I take my whiskey seriously. And one question that often comes up in my circles is: what do you call bourbon without ice?

It might seem trivial, but when you’re trying to order a drink at a bar or impress your date with your knowledge of whiskey, it helps to have the right terminology. 

Plus, drinking bourbon neat (as it’s called) can reveal subtle flavors and aromas that might be masked by ice or mixers.

So, whether you’re a seasoned bourbon drinker or a curious newbie, stick around as we explore the world of neat bourbon and the etiquette that comes with it.

Who knows, you might discover a new favorite way to enjoy this classic American spirit.

chef pouring some bourbon in a small glass

Introduction

What is bourbon?

The Background

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is primarily made from corn and aged in charred oak barrels.

It is believed to have originated in Kentucky in the late 18th century, although its exact history is debated.

Bourbon gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, which was named after the French Bourbon regime.

According to one popular story, bourbon was first produced by a Baptist minister named Elijah Craig, who is said to have charred oak barrels to make them more durable and then used them to age his whiskey.

While the veracity of this story is disputed, there is no doubt that bourbon became a popular drink in Kentucky in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The regulations

In 1964, the United States Congress officially acknowledged bourbon as a “distinctive product of the United States” and established specific criteria for what can be called bourbon.

According to these regulations, bourbon must be made from a puree bill of at least 51% corn, filtered to no more than 80% alcohol by volume (ABV), matured in new, seared oak barrels, and kept at no less than 40% ABV.

While bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, the majority is still produced in Kentucky.

The versatility

Bourbon’s versatility makes it a popular choice for a variety of mixed drinks and cocktails.

Its sweetness and caramel notes make it an excellent base for drinks like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Whiskey Sour.

The smokiness of bourbon also pairs well with citrus and other fruits, making it a great choice for summer drinks like the Mint Julep and the Bourbon Peach Smash.

While bourbon is typically enjoyed on its own or in a classic cocktail, it can also be paired with other spirits like chilled vodka.

One popular drink that combines bourbon and vodka is the Moscow Mule.

This refreshing cocktail features a mixture of bourbon, vodka, ginger beer, and lemon lime soda, served in a copper mug over ice.

The bold flavor of the bourbon complements the smoothness of the vodka and the spicy ginger beer, creating a well-balanced and delicious drink.

Why is ice often added to bourbon?

Bourbon is a popular spirit that is enjoyed in a variety of ways, and adding ice cubes is a common way to alter its taste and temperature.

Here are some reasons why ice is often added to bourbon [1]:

  • Temperature control: Ice is often added to bourbon to help control its temperature. Bourbon is typically best enjoyed at a temperature between 60-65°F (15.5-18.5°C), which can be difficult to maintain without the help of ice.
  • Dilution: Ice can also help to dilute the bourbon, which can be beneficial for several reasons. Diluting the bourbon can help to mellow out its flavors and aromas, making it more approachable and easy to drink. Additionally, dilution can help to release more of the bourbon’s complex flavors and aromas, making it more enjoyable to savor and sip on.
  • Personal preference: Some people simply prefer to drink their bourbon with ice. Adding ice can make the bourbon more refreshing and can also help to cut the sweetness of some bourbons, making it more balanced.
  • Tradition: Adding ice to bourbon is also a traditional way of serving it. In fact, many classic bourbon cocktails, like the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep, are traditionally served over ice.

Why is it important to know what to call bourbon without ice?

Familiarizing yourself with the appropriate terminology for ordering bourbon without ice is advantageous. Here are some key reasons why it’s essential to understand these terms:

  • Ordering correctly: Knowing the correct terminology for ordering bourbon without ice (such as “neat” or “straight up”) can help you communicate clearly with bartenders and servers, reducing the likelihood of confusion or errors in your drink order.
  • Demonstrating knowledge: Using the correct term for drinking bourbon without ice can show others that you have a certain level of understanding and appreciation for bourbon, which can be impressive and enhance your credibility in social situations.
  • Appreciating the taste: Drinking bourbon without ice can be a different experience than drinking it with ice or mixers, as it allows you to fully value the flavors and aromas of the spirit. Knowing how to order bourbon without ice can help you enjoy it to its fullest potential.
  • Cultural significance: Bourbon is a cultural icon of the United States and has a rich history and tradition. Knowing the correct terminology for drinking can help you better understand and appreciate its cultural significance.

a green bottle of bourbon on the table

Neat Bourbon: Definition and Etiquette

What is “neat” bourbon?

Neat bourbon refers to a serving style of bourbon where the whiskey is served [2] in an old-fashioned glass at room temperature without any mixers or dilution from ice or water.

It allows the drinker to fully experience the flavor, aroma, and texture of the bourbon in its purest form.

How is neat bourbon served?

Neat bourbon is served at room temperature in a glass without ice or any other mixers.

It is typically poured into a small, stemmed cocktail glass or tulip-shaped glass known as a snifter or a rocks glass.

The glass is held by the stem or base to prevent the heat from the hand from warming up the bourbon too quickly.

Neat bourbon is meant to be sipped and savored slowly, allowing you to fully appreciate the flavors and aromas of the spirit.

What are the benefits of drinking bourbon neat?

When it comes to drinking bourbon, consuming it neat – without any mixers or ice – has several benefits. Here are the main advantages of enjoying bourbon in its purest form:

  • Full flavor appreciation: Drinking bourbon neat allows you to fully cherish the flavors and aromas of the spirit without any dilution or interference from other ingredients.
  • Enhanced aroma: The aroma of bourbon is an essential aspect of its overall taste. Drinking it neatly allows you to fully experience its complex and diverse aroma.
  • Higher quality: Drinking bourbon neat can help you identify high-quality bourbon since the flavors and aromas are not masked by mixers or ice.
  • Better value: Drinking bourbon neat allows you to fully enjoy and appreciate the spirit, so you may find that you can drink less while still feeling satisfied, potentially saving you money in the long run.
  • Social significance: Drinking bourbon neat is a cultural tradition and social activity that has been passed down for generations. It can be a bonding experience and a way to connect with others who share a passion for the same drink.

What are the etiquette rules for drinking neat bourbon?

Knowing the proper etiquette when drinking it neat is important if you’re a bourbon enthusiast.

Here are the rules to help you fully enjoy this beloved spirit’s unique flavor and aroma.

  • Choose the right glass: Bourbon is typically served in a small, stemmed glass known as a snifter or a rocks glass, and not in a martini glass. It is important to choose the right glass to fully value the aroma and flavor of the bourbon.
  • Don’t fill the glass to the brim: Pouring too much bourbon into the glass can make it difficult to swirl and smell the spirit, which are important steps to fully appreciate its flavor and aroma. Aim to fill the glass about one-third to one-half full.
  • Hold the glass by the stem or base: Holding the glass by the bowl can warm the bourbon and affect its flavor. Holding it by the stem or base helps to keep it at the proper temperature.
  • Sip, don’t shoot: Neat bourbon is meant to be sipped and savored slowly. Drinking it quickly or in large quantities can mask the flavor and make it difficult to appreciate the spirit’s subtle nuances.
  • Use a palate cleanser: Using a palate cleanser, such as water or unsalted crackers, is recommended between tastings to clear your palate and avoid mixing flavors.
  • Don’t add anything to the bourbon: Neat bourbon is served without any mixers or ice. Adding anything to the bourbon, such as a few drops of water or soda, can change its flavor and aroma.
  • Avoid strong scents or flavors: When drinking neat bourbon, it is best to avoid wearing strong perfumes or colognes or eating strongly flavored foods that can overpower the aroma and taste of the bourbon.
  • Respect the bourbon: It is important to respect the bourbon and its makers by drinking it in a respectful and responsible manner. Enjoy it but don’t overdo it.
  • Drink responsibly: As with any alcoholic beverage, drinking bourbon responsibly and in moderation is important. Neat bourbon is meant to be enjoyed slowly, not consumed quickly or in large quantities.

What are the best bourbons served neat?

If you’re a fan of bourbon served neat, there are some exceptional options to try out. Check out this list of some of the best bourbons that are often enjoyed without any mixers or ice:

  • Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year: This is a highly sought-after bourbon that is known for its smoothness and complexity. It has rich flavors of caramel, vanilla, and oak.
  • Booker’s Bourbon: This is a high-proof bourbon that is aged for six to eight years. It has a deep amber color and strong vanilla, caramel, and oak flavors.
  • Four Roses Single Barrel: This single-barrel bourbon is aged for a minimum of seven years. It has a compounded flavor profile with fruit, spice, and caramel notes.
  • Eagle Rare 10 Year: This is a 10-year-old bourbon that is known for its smoothness and balance. It has flavors of toffee, vanilla, and oak.
  • Blanton’s Original Single Barrel: This single-barrel bourbon is aged six to eight years. It has a complex flavor profile with caramel, vanilla, and spice notes.
  • Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: This is a high-proof bourbon that is aged for six to eight years. It has a rich, full-bodied flavor with caramel, vanilla, and oak notes.
  • Woodford Reserve Double Oaked: This double-barrelled bourbon is aged in two different oak barrels. It has a rich, sweet flavor with vanilla, caramel, and toasted oak notes.
  • Wild Turkey 101: This high-proof bourbon is a favorite among bourbon enthusiasts for its bold and spicy flavor profile. It has a strong aroma of vanilla and caramel, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. On the palate, it has oak, honey, and pepper notes.

Alternative Terms for Neat Bourbon

What are some other terms for neat bourbon?

If you’re new to the world of bourbon, you may be curious about the terminology used to describe how it’s served.

Below, we’ve put together a list of some of the most commonly used terms for ordering neat drinks, as well as their meanings and any nuances or variations in usage.

  • Straight up: This term means the liquor is served without any ice, but it’s chilled before serving by shaking or stirring the bourbon with ice and then straining it into a glass. This is a popular way of serving whiskey in general and is often used in classic cocktails like the Manhattan or Martini.
  • Up: Similar to “straight up,” this term refers to liquor that is chilled before serving but without ice. It is often used interchangeably with “straight up.”
  • Neat and tidy: This term refers to bourbon served in a glass without ice or mixers. It is a polite way of ordering bourbon neat, often used in upscale establishments.
  • Neat with a twist: This is a variation of neat bourbon that involves adding a twist of citrus peel (usually lemon or orange) to the glass. The citrus oils from the peel can enhance the flavor of the bourbon.
  • Room temperature: This is another way of ordering bourbon neat without specifying any additional conditions. It means that the bourbon will be served at room temperature, without any ice or mixers.
  • Pure: This term is often used to describe bourbon that is served neat, implying that it is in its purest form without any dilution from ice or mixers.
  • Unadulterated: Similar to “pure,” this term suggests that the bourbon has not been altered in any way and is served without any ice or mixers.
  • Naked: This term is used to describe bourbon served in a glass without ice or mixers. It’s a playful term that implies the bourbon is in its natural state, unencumbered by anything else.
  • Clean: This term refers to bourbon served neat, without any ice or mixers. It suggests that the bourbon is clear and uncomplicated, allowing the drinker to fully appreciate its flavor and aroma.
  • Without a chaser: This term means the bourbon is served without any additional drink, such as water or soda. It is often used to describe bourbon served neat, without any ice or mixers.

Where do these terms come from?

The origins of these terms are not entirely clear, but they have become common parlance in the world of bourbon and whiskey.

  • The term “straight up” likely comes from the practice of serving liquor straight from the bottle without any mixers or dilution.
  • The term “neat” may have originally meant “clean” or “tidy,” implying that the bourbon is served in its purest form without any added extras.
  • The term “room temperature” is self-explanatory and simply refers to the temperature at which the bourbon is served.
  • “Pure” and “unadulterated” are both used to imply that the bourbon is served without any dilution or alteration, while “naked” is a playful term that suggests the bourbon is served in its natural state. “
  • Clean” is used to describe bourbon that is unencumbered by ice or mixers, allowing the drinker to fully appreciate its taste and aroma.
  • “Without a chaser” simply means that the bourbon is served without any additional drinks or mixers.

Are these terms widely recognized?

Yes, these terms are widely recognized in the bourbon and whiskey-drinking community, especially among enthusiasts and bartenders.

While some of these terms may be more common or popular in certain regions or establishments than others, they are generally understood and used by people who appreciate and enjoy drinking bourbon whiskey neat.

However, it’s always a good idea to clarify your order with the bartender or server if you’re unsure of the terminology or want to ensure that you receive your drink prepared to your liking.

How to Order Neat Bourbon

What should you say when ordering neat bourbon?

If you’re looking to order neat bourbon, it’s important to know what to say to the bartender or server.

Here are the phrases you can use to order your drink with confidence and ensure you receive your bourbon just the way you like it:

  • “Can I get a bourbon neat, please?” – This is a straightforward way to order if you want to drink neat bourbon. It’s clear and simple, leaving no room for confusion.
  • “I’ll have a straight bourbon, no ice.” – Similar to the first option, this phrase is clear and to the point. It specifies that you want your bourbon served without ice.
  • “Can I get a glass of bourbon, room temperature, no mixer?” – This phrase specifies that you want your bourbon served at room temperature and without any mixers.
  • “May I have a bourbon neat, please, and a glass of water on the side?” – Some people prefer to have a glass of water on the side when drinking neat bourbon to cleanse their palate between sips. This phrase indicates that preference.
  • “Can I get a pure bourbon, please?” – This phrase implies that you want your bourbon served neat and in its purest form, without any dilution from ice or mixers.
  • “I’ll have a naked bourbon, please.” – This phrase is a playful way to order neat bourbon, implying that you want your bourbon in its natural state, unencumbered by anything else.
  • “May I have a clean bourbon, neat, please?” – This phrase suggests that you want your bourbon served without any ice or mixers, allowing the drinker to fully appreciate its flavor and aroma.

How can you specify the type of bourbon you want?

To specify the type of bourbon you want, you can provide the brand name, the age, the proof, or the mash bill. Here are some examples:

  • Brand name: You can simply ask for a specific brand of bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, or Knob Creek.
  • Age: You can specify the age of the bourbon you prefer. For example, you can say, “I’d like a 10-year-old bourbon,” or “Can I have a bourbon that’s been aged for at least 6 years?”
  • Proof: Bourbon can vary in strength or “proof,” which is the percentage of alcohol by volume. You can specify the proof you prefer, such as “I’d like a bourbon that’s 100 proof” or “Can you recommend a bourbon that’s around 80 proof?”
  • Mash bill: The mash bill is the recipe for grains used to make the bourbon. You can ask for a specific mash bill, such as “I’d like a high-rye bourbon,” which is a bourbon with a higher percentage of rye in the mash bill, or “Can I have a wheated bourbon?” which is a bourbon with a higher chance of wheat in the mash bill.

What are some tips for ordering bourbon like a pro?

If you’re a bourbon enthusiast or simply want to influence your friends with your knowledge of bourbon, there are a few tips to keep in mind when ordering.

Here is a list of things to consider to help you order bourbon like a pro:

  • Know your bourbon: Take some time to research different types of bourbon and familiarize yourself with their characteristics. This will help you to confidently order the type of bourbon you want and impress those around you with your knowledge.
  • Use the right terminology: As we discussed, several terms are used to order bourbon served differently. Using the appropriate terminology when ordering will ensure you get the type of bourbon you want and convey your level of expertise.
  • Specify your brand: If you have a particular brand of bourbon in mind, be sure to specify it when ordering. This will avoid confusion and ensure you get the bourbon you want.
  • Consider the occasion: The type of bourbon you order may depend on the occasion. If you’re at a formal event or restaurant, it’s best to order a high-end bourbon, whereas a casual bar setting may call for something more relaxed.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions: If you’re uncertain about something or need help choosing a bourbon, don’t be afraid to ask the bartender or server for guidance. They are experts in their field and will be happy to assist you.

FAQs

What do you call straight bourbon?

Straight bourbon is a term used to describe a specific type of bourbon whiskey that meets certain legal requirements the US government sets.

To be labeled as “straight bourbon,” the whiskey must be made from at least 51% corn, aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years, and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.

When ordering bourbon at a bar or restaurant, “straight bourbon” can be used to specify that you want a bourbon that meets these legal requirements and that you want it served without any mixers or ice (neat).

It’s important to note that not all bourbons are straight bourbons, as some may not meet the specific requirements set forth by the US government.

Do you have a bourbon with or without ice?

“Do you have a bourbon with or without ice?” is a question that is often asked when ordering bourbon at a bar or restaurant.

The answer to this question can vary depending on the establishment and personal preference.

If you prefer to drink bourbon with ice, you can ask for it “on the rocks” or “with a few cubes of ice.” If you like it without ice, you can ask for it “neat” or “straight up.”

It’s important to note that some establishments may not have the option to serve bourbon on the rocks due to their policy, the type of glassware they use, or the quality of the bourbon they serve.

In these cases, the only option may be to order it neat or straight up. It’s also important to consider the type and age of the bourbon you are ordering, as some higher-end or aged bourbons may be best served without ice to fully appreciate their flavor and aroma.

References

  1. https://www.whiskyadvocate.com/why-ice-bourbon/
  2. https://www.tastingtable.com/1261482/means-order-bourbon-neat-rocks/
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