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Bourbon Tasting

To help our customers better understand how to properly enjoy your bourbon, we have shared the wonderfully worded tips and tricks from Bill at Modern Thirst. Bill’s original article can be found here. Be sure to check out Modern Thirst for more awesome drink ideas and advice!

Did you know there is a difference between tasting your bourbon and drinking it?

The correct way to drink bourbon is however you like to drink it;  mixed or on the rocks on a hot summer day, straight up next to the fire in the dead of winter, or with a twist of lemon with dinner.  It’s all good.

But that’s very different from tasting bourbon.  Tasting bourbon is a careful examination of the bourbon’s nuances and aromas without the hindrance of a mixer, or an abundance of ice or water that will ultimately dull the flavors.

Tasting bourbon may seem complicated.  It may, at first, seem like people must have incredibly delicate palates to taste so many flavors in a bourbon when many people just taste, well, bourbon.  But it isn’t difficult.

There are four essential categories to consider:


Is it clear?  Cloudy?  Light amber or dark mahogany in color?  Age, proof, and filtration methods all affect appearance.  Hold the glass up to the light, or in front of a clean white sheet of paper to get a good look at it.  Swirl it around the glass once or twice.


Smell is a vital part of taste, and thus it’s very important to not skip the aroma portion of a taste.  Keeping your lips parted, stick your nose right above the opening of your glass, even in the glass if you’re using a snifter or Glencairn.


Don’t gulp the bourbon.  No matter how strong it is, you’ll get used to the alcohol burn on the tongue until it doesn’t bother you.  So take a generous mouthful into your mouth and “chew” it.  The folks at Jim beam call it the “Kentucky Chew.” Move the bourbon around inside your mouth with a chewing motion to coat your tongue.  Notice the difference in flavors from the front to the back of your tongue.  Finally, swallow it.  The tongue has several tasting “zones.”  The tip of the tongue detects sweetness.  The middle of the tongue detects salty flavors, and the back of the tongue can taste bitterness.  These zones, combined with the aroma, define the flavors of the bourbon.


the finish refers to the sensations after you’ve swallowed.  How long does the taste stay with you?  If it lingers for a while, that’s a long finish.  If it dissipates quickly, it’s a short finish.  Do any other flavors manifest in your mouth as the finish dissipates?  What textures did you notice?  Did you catch a warm sensation in your upper body after swallowing?  The folks at Jim Beam call that the “Kentucky Hug.”

Final Thoughts

I’d also recommend that you don’t sit down to taste a bourbon with someone else’s review in front of you.  Don’t let their tastings color your initial impressions.  Drink it yourself on its own merits first.  If after a few sips you want to compare your notes to, say, ours at Modern Thirst, then bring out our reviews and see if you identified some of the same flavors and smells, or if you can go back and identify them later.

Last, GO TASTE SOME BOURBON!   The best way to become proficient at bourbon tasting is to do it!  It’s always easier to taste it in the comfort of your own home, or a friend’s, but there’s no reason you can’t do it at a bar or restaurant as well.  It’s more cost effective to split a bottle or buy one glass at a bar than to buy a full bottle of a rare limited release bourbon just for one taste.

Thank you for Reading

We would once again like to thanks Bill from Modern Thirst for providing us with this great information on Bourbon tasting strategies. For questions you can email him at

Questions for us? Want to come taste some Bourbon? Contact us below.