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Thursday, December 13, 2018

So You Want To Get Into Bourbon? A Beginners Guide

Here at the blog, we've been getting lots of questions from people who are new to bourbon or looking to get into the bourbon scene. Most of the questions are around how do you even get started?

We can definitely attest that when you go to a liquor store, it can be overwhelming with the amount of choices and the terminology. Thankfully, we're here to help and offer guidance. Let's start with the basics.

What makes a bourbon a bourbon? 

Bourbon is a specific type of whiskey. In order to be called a bourbon, the alcohol must meet all of the following:
  • Produced in the United States
  • Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
  • Aged in new, charred oak containers
  • Distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume)
  • Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume)
  • Bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume)
Note: All bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons.

What are some good beginner drinks and cocktails?

If you're looking to get your feet wet, it is best to start with some mixed cocktails to see if you like the flavor of bourbon. Some we recommend are:
  • Whiskey Sour - 1 1⁄2 oz bourbon, 3⁄4 oz fresh lemon juice, 3⁄4 oz simple syrup (1 part water, 1 part sugar) - A drink more on the sweet side, but very tasty.
  • Szarac - 1/2 teaspoon absinthe, 1 sugar cube, 2.5 ounces rye whiskey, 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters, 1 lemon twist - One of our favorites, but not every bartender knows this one. We recommend this made with Woodford Rye or the namesake, Szarac Rye. 
  • Old Fashioned - 1⁄2 tsp sugar, 3 dashes Angostura bitters, 1 tsp water, 2 oz bourbon, garnish with an orange peel and maraschino cherry - An all time classic and our favorite bourbon cocktail. Often bars and restaurants will have their own variation of this with unique twists. Our all time favorite was a salted caramel old fashioned. 
  • Manhattan (pictured below) - 2 oz bourbon or rye, 1 oz sweet vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, 1 dash orange bitters - Another classic. Same as the old fashioned where there are many varieties of these (including some with bacon!)
  • Bourbon and ginger ale - Easy to make and bubbly.
  • Bourbon Eggnog - Eggnog and bourbon topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg - Festive and a delicious alternative to a dessert.

What are some good beginner bourbons?

For beginners, we like to recommend smoother bourbons than some of the more robust bourbons out there. The following are good options at various price points.

  • Cheaper option (under $30) - Evan Williams Bottled in Bond - This is a tasty bourbon that is 50% alcohol (not watered down), at least 4 years old, and a great mixer that is good enough to sip neat (without ice or water). 
  • Medium option (under $40) - Basil Hayden's Bourbon - They use a higher rye content than most bourbons, which makes this smooth and really easy to drink.
  • High-end option (under $60) - Woodford Reserve Double Oaked - While this doesn't have the range of flavors that Woodford Reserve has, it has very strong distinct flavors. The bourbon is "matured in separate, charred oak barrels – the second barrel deeply toasted before a light charring – extracts additional amounts of soft, sweet oak character." Like the Basil Hayden's, this is also really easy to drink. 
  • Other - (under $40) - Woodford Reserve Rye - While this isn't a bourbon, the taste is very similar to bourbon and offers rich flavors while remaining very drinkable. Bulleit Rye - A solid value at a good price (~$25).
What is the best way to drink bourbon?

The best way to drink bourbon is the way that brings you the most enjoyment. I used to enjoy mixing with Diet Coke and would mix up the brands of bourbons to see which I liked. As I got older, I started removing the Diet Coke and drinking on the rocks (ice) with a splash of water. Many friends of the blog drink their bourbons neat (no ice or water).

Most experts recommend to drink from a Glencairn glass (pictured below) with a drop or two of water. This allows the drinker to experience the smells and helps bring out the intended flavor of the bourbon. We do this with our reviews, but we also drink how we most enjoy. One of the techniques for tasting bourbon is called the Kentucky Chew. This is where you swish the bourbon around in your mouth with a chewing motion so that the bourbon coats your entire mouth and tongue. Different parts of your mouth pick up different flavors and you don’t want to miss any of them.

Where do I start?

As we've mentioned, it can be intimidating to start. We recommend going to your favorite watering hole or restaurant and trying some of the cocktails. If you would rather start at home, you should be able get all the recommended beginner bourbons at your local liquor store. We tried to pick ones that are readily available. We recommend starting with a 750ml bottle or smaller until you find a variety you like.

This article was written by Mark and edited by The Duchess. If you have additional questions, recommendations, or any tips, please drop a comment below. Cheers

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