This guide to bourbon tasting will help you to appreciate bourbon both at home and when tasting bourbon at a distillery!
First, the basics: what is bourbon?? Legally, Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is aged in new charred oak barrels and made with at least 51% corn.
You can find bourbon produced elsewhere, but Kentucky bourbon is hands down the best tasting bourbon. It’s actually because of Kentucky’s naturally limestone-filtered water, which makes our bourbon taste sweeter.
Distilling a bourbon is not an easy process. First, you take the mash blend – a mix of corn, rye, wheat, and so on – and ferment it. That gives off an absolutely heavenly scent of baking bread which permeates every bourbon distillery!
Next, that sour, fermented mash is strained and distilled, which results in a clear white alcohol that’s incredibly strong. This is often referred to as “white lightning” or “white dog.”
Next is the defining step: that white lightning is aged in a brand new, toasted white oak barrel. While it ages, the caramelized wood sugars seep into the liquor to add flavor, complexity and that iconic caramel color.
Color comes mostly from the barrel and age, so although it may look all the same at first glance, compare different bourbons from one another. Some might appear slightly more straw color, while others are deep orange and dark amber in color.
Sniff the bourbon! Give a little distance between your nose and the glass and take a light whiff, leaving your mouth open as you breathe in.
Take a small sip and swish it around your mouth without initially swallowing. Hit all the taste buds – this is what we call the Kentucky Chew, and it accumulates your mouth to the strength of the bourbon.