In preparing to learn a little about one of Kentucky’s grandest enterprises, the art of distilling, I would suggest we all get relaxed and comfortable. I think it would be appropriate that you go get a bottle of your favorite bourbon, pour about three fingers in the bottom of the glass and get ready to enjoy a sip. But don’t do it yet. Not everyone understands how sipping whiskey should be sipped. While everyone has his or her own method, I prefer to drink my whiskey neat—in other words, mixed with nothing and without ice. A great bourbon is like a great cheese: you wouldn’t eat cheese cold because at that temperature you can’t properly taste it. Cheese needs to be eaten at room temperature so you can enjoy the full flavors the maker intended. Bourbon is just the same. If you want to drink something cold, go have an ice-cold shooter of vodka. Vodka has no taste, smell or color, so you may as well fire it down icy cold and get it over with. Bourbon, on the other hand, is to be sipped in small quantities, savored and enjoyed. Here I am going to offer you my method for tasting.
With any luck at all you now have a glass with a splash of whiskey in the bottom, but before you taste it, think about a few characteristics of the bourbon in front of you. The first is the color—the soul of the whiskey. Your bourbon should have a rich and brilliant amber color with a flame-orange glint. Next is the bouquet, or nose. Hold your glass in both hands for a moment to warm the bourbon. Without swirling your whiskey, place your nose just above the rim of the glass and savor the aromas. You are not sniffing wine, so there is no need to stick your nose down into the glass. Bourbon is a “big” drink, not intended for the meek or timid drinker. Open your mouth slightly and breathe gently through your mouth and nose at the same time. Experience the aroma more than once. Did you catch the distinctive vanilla and caramel scent of the charred oak barrel? If it is fine bourbon it should not take your breath away with an overpowering alcoholic vapor, nor should it be without robust scent. Now, sip just enough of the bourbon to cover your tongue. Part your lips slightly and draw in some air over the liquid. Hold it in your mouth for a few seconds and let it wash over your tongue. Your bourbon should be full-bodied, yet soft and well-rounded. It should never bite or burn. Now, take a swallow. Did the taste live up to the promise of the aroma? Was it clean, crisp and smooth? Did you feel it all the way down? Taste it again. Remember this is not the Wild West, where you’re firing shots down because the whiskey is so hot you can’t stand it. Nor are you trying to drink the whole bottle in one sitting.
This is sipping whiskey. Take your time; enjoy it.