Tasting bourbon can be as delicate or brash as you choose to make it. I’ll never tell someone what is the “right way” to drink whiskey. I say, drink it as you like it. In my evaluation I go through several steps to make sure I have a chance to taste everything the whiskey has to offer. I use a snifter or glencairn glass and start with a couple ounces of full strength bourbon.
Step 1 – Nose The Bourbon
Give the whiskey a little swirl to coat the glass with whiskey and release some rich fumes. I take a slow deep smell from the top of the glass; being conscious to not get too much I make sure the fumes are mixing with the surrounding air to get a balanced nose full. I then set it down and think about what I smelled and what I can still smell. I refresh my senses with a few deep breaths and go in for a second nose.
Step 2 – Drink It Neat
While your nostrils are still full of whiskey goodness take a small sip of the whiskey. As it makes its way back let bourbon wash over your entire tongue so all of your taste buds can contribute. I then sit back and take another breath, considering what that first taste feels like on my palate. With another couple sips the flavor starts to come into focus. I like to let my palate rest for a minute while thinking about the flavors.
Step 3 – Add Water
Adding water can bring out wholly new flavors from the bourbon. You might taste dark cinnamon notes or malty grainy notes that your palate may have missed in the neat spirit. Using filtered or distilled water, start with just a splash. Swirl your bourbon to mix in the water, give it a smell, and then give it a taste. I continue to add water little by little till I feel like I have had a full range of flavors, or till I don’t like the taste anymore.
Step 4 – On The Rocks
While this step is often left out by professionals, I’ve enjoyed it since before I knew anything about anything so I count it in my evaluation. It’s true that the cold can dull your taste buds and mask flavors in the spirit, even so I still find new flavors from whiskey on the rocks. The slow reduction in proof as the ice melts can be a very enjoyable way to experience similar flavors to those from adding small doses of water. Yes, it’s funny you should ask, I am in fact personally obsessed with ice. My home freezer is stocked with five sizes and three shapes of ice. The bigger the ice the slower it melts. Try a couple cubes then try filling the glass, lots of ways to experience your whiskey.
Step 5 – Take it Home
It doesn’t have to be home, just the place where you like to relax and enjoy bourbon. As you enjoy a few drams throughout the evening new flavors will arise and connect. Familiar smells and tastes will start to come together to bring a fuller understanding and comprehension of what the bourbon has to offer. Spending real time with the whiskey will hone your palate and strengthen your enjoyment.
Once the evaluation is complete we now know what we have in the barrel. From the over one hundred barrels we have racked at Batch 206 I have narrowed it down to three of the oldest for our Single Cask release. Our plan is to release this special bourbon in the end of July so stay tuned as we continue the journey from grain to glass for one lucky cask.