You can drink quality bourbon whiskey in lots of different ways. Indeed, it’s a versatile beverage that can play a variety of roles in your drinks cabinet from cocktails to neat sipping.

In this particular guide, you will learn everything you need to know about how to drink bourbon whiskey:

Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.

How To Drink Bourbon Whiskey

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How To Properly Serve Bourbon Whiskey

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Rules For Drinking Bourbon Whiskey

Serving Bourbon Whiskey

Before you begin to drink any bourbon whiskey, it’s absolutely vital that you should follow a few rules.

Firstly, there are no rules. It’s important to remember that bourbon has very humble origins. It was first produced by farmers with too much grain on their hands who used it as a form of currency. They distilled it simply because it was easier to transport than beer as it was both lighter and didn’t spoil.

The gentrification of bourbon is a very recent phenomenon and most small-batch and single-cask whiskeys didn’t emerge until the late 20th century. It was knocked back in shot glasses by dusty travellers or mixed in with cocktails long before it was savoured in elegant nosing glasses.

Additionally, you should drink bourbon in a way that you enjoy it. Don’t feel that you have to conform to a “correct” way because it’s what you’ve been told. Like all alcoholic spirits, bourbon should be fun, relaxing, and above all, tasty.

Therefore, if you want to add ice, throw in as much as you want. You prefer it chilled? Don’t let people tell you that you can’t put it in the fridge. Slam it down or take your time. If you paid for it, it’s yours to do with how you please.

How To Drink Bourbon Whiskey

Tumbler Vs Glencairn Nosing Glass

Now that we’ve made that very clear, we’d still like to provide you with a few serving suggestions for bourbon whiskey. These may be quite helpful for you, especially if you’re a beginner.

As mentioned earlier, there are lots of ways to drink bourbon. Typically, it can be served in one of the following ways:

  • Tumbler
  • Shot glass
  • Nosing Glass
  • Cocktail

Shot glasses are self-explanatory. These drinking vessels are designed to contain a single shot. You can sip it or knock it back, it’s up to you. A step up from the shot glass is the tumbler. It’s a stable glass and unlike the shot, it leaves plenty of room for ice should you choose to add some.

Meanwhile, the nosing glass has several advantages. As the name suggests, its tulip shape will capture the aromas so you can enjoy them before taking a sip.

If you’re looking to appreciate the whiskey’s quality, it’s the better option. A shot glass has no space for the aromas while the tumbler lets them escape without much resistance. This simple design element will greatly influence the resulting flavour profile and generally heighten your experience if that’s what you seek.

We’re particularly fond of the Glencairn glass that was originally designed for tasting Scotch. However, you can check out the other glassware we suggest in our dedicated guide.

Bourbon On The Rocks

Bourbon Whiskey On The Rocks

Adding ice to bourbon is a matter of personal preference. While it’s indeed more refreshing, bear in mind that chilling a beverage in any way slows down oxidisation. This natural process plays an important role in releasing its flavour compounds so if a drink is too cold, it may lose its subtle nuances.

Additionally, diluting bourbon whiskey is actually a great way to savour it. Since bourbon is quite rich in character, it tends to fare well with ice. However, the downside of ice cubes is that they can still over-dilute or over-chill the whiskey in a way you can’t directly control.

You can instead add a few drops of water, which helps open up its aromas. Similarly, it reduces the alcohol bloom, which can overwhelm your senses and mask its flavours when too strong.

If your objective is to taste the bourbon whiskey as best as possible, we would recommend room-temperature mineral water. If you sample it neat first, you should then have a good idea if or how much water you’d want to add. You might find that it’s perfectly fine neat!

Some people like to use pipettes in order to properly gauge how much water they add. Nevertheless, you can still pour in a few drops with a small pitcher. As said earlier, there are no rules!

Meanwhile, sampling bourbon on the rocks is a great way for beginners to become acquainted with the drink. The combination of chilling and diluting the beverage will reduce its intensity in a way that’s more approachable.

Finally, bourbon is the backbone of many iconic cocktails. Learn about some of the best ones and their recipes with our guide to bourbon cocktails.

How To Serve Bourbon Whiskey

There are no formalities or fanfare when serving bourbon whiskey for yourself. Simply do it the way you want to drink it.

However, when serving guests, try to take their own preferences into consideration. The best way to go about this is to simply ask them how they take it. Don’t just assume that they’ll have it the same way as you and be a gracious host rather than snooty if they choose it a way that you don’t like.

Nevertheless, since it’s your beverage, you could always ask very politely whether they’d like to try it a little differently. For instance, you may have a very premium bottled-in-bond single-cask bourbon whiskey in your hand and they’ve asked for a tumbler filled with ice.

You could simply ask them whether they’ve ever tried a nice bourbon in a tasting glass and see how they respond. You never know, they might be enthusiastic!

Whatever the chosen glassware, we suggest serving it neat alongside a bowl filled with ice, tongs, and a small pitcher of water. Your guests will then be able to comfortably serve themselves according to their tastes rather than feel embarrassed that they’d have to ask some.

For instance, they might try it neat as you recommended but find it to be too strong. This way, you’ll have given them the option to add ice anyway. Even if you don’t approve, it’s better that they enjoy their drink another way rather than it go to waste!

What Next?

Now that you have read about how to drink bourbon, take a deeper dive into our resources!

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