Whether you’re drinking an exclusive high-end sipping bourbon or an inexpensive well bourbon, the key is to drink what you like, the way you like it. That’s not to say, however, that you can’t develop a taste for something new. Many people don’t care for caviar or oysters the first time they try them. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. If you usually go for a “Jim and ginger”, try a snifter of Blanton’s, or another bourbon on the top shelf with a little water or a couple of rocks.
If you’ve read my bio, then you’d know that I grew up watching my grandparents drink Yellowstone. Only later did I discover that it runs about $12 a bottle (hardly a sipping bourbon). When I was over at my grandmothers house over Christmas break, I saw someone had bought my grandmother a bottle of Eagle Rare, a very nice 10 year old, single barrel bourbon. I asked her if I could have a glass, to which she said “Oh, you won’t like that, it’s too harsh”. To my palate, Eagle Rare is far superior in taste and complexity, but to Grand Zoe it’s “too harsh”. She knows what she likes and she’s been drinking Yellowstone and water since before I was born.
As long as it’s bourbon, I don’t mind how you prefer drink it. If your “go to” drink is a well brand with a mixer, that’s fine. But don’t consider yourself a connoisseur. Take Wild Turkey, for example. Most people associate that name with slugging down shots of “151” on your 21st birthday and being sick as a dog as a result. But if you try their Rare Breed or Kentucky Spirit, you are in for a completely different bourbon experience. I’ve been very pleased with both. Rare Breed in particular is less expensive than Kentucky Spirit and has a light, sweet flavor with hints of oak and honey. I promise…it is not the Wild Turkey you remember from college.
When it comes to the actual tasting of a high end bourbon, the technique is a little different. Just as you wouldn’t put ketchup on a prime cut filet mignon, you wouldn’t want to add a mixer or even too much water to a fine bourbon. Anything you do add to a great bourbon should be about enhancing its natural flavor. My personal preference is to add about two cubes of ice. This allows me to start out with the strong rich flavors of the untainted bourbon. And then, as the ice melts, it opens up a new taste profile. While adding water will reveal new flavors in the bourbon, adding too much water or ice will simply dilute subtle nuances. The important thing is to find what works for you. Start out straight and add a little water or ice incrementally until you get it to the point where you like it.
And keep in mind: there is no right or wrong way to drink bourbon, as long as you enjoy it.