As a bartender and a bourbon lover, I’m overjoyed to see such a surge in interest amongst bar guests. Over the last 5 years, many old scotch drinkers, beer lovers, and wine snobs have tip-toed into the realm of premium Kentucky straight and have fallen in love.
Again, I couldn’t be happier.
Bourbon is easy to enjoy – as well it should be, but there are a few ways to improve your tasting experience as a guest that will also garner the admiration of your bartender. Namely; don’t dilute a good bourbon with an inferior substance, don’t be afraid to try new things, and take your time with fine whiskeys.
DON’T Ask Your Bartender to Destroy a Good Bourbon
Case in Point: A guest approaches the bar with “Hello, Bartender. I will have a Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 Year Old with a splash of coke”.
Owning a bottle of Pappy is the equivalent of owning a Ferrari. Sipping a glass of it is like a ride on a private jet. The average price of a bottle of decent bourbon is about $30. A single glass of Pappy can go for as much as $50. One reason that aged bourbon is so expensive is that it disappears over time. A barrel holds 30 cases of bourbon, but after 23 years it will yield only about seven due to evaporation. Add that to the fact that there is a very, very small batch of this stuff available, and you have one of the rarest bourbons on the planet. For you to attempt to add anything to this angelic substance is sacrilegious , let alone coke or sprite. Hell, even most ice isn’t worthy of being dropped into a glass of Pappy Van Winkle or other premium bourbons.
The right way to do it: DO order classic cocktails (Old Fashions, Manhattans, Whiskey Sours), or stick with ginger ale if you need some flavor. Ask your bartender if its safe and wise to mix your chosen brand of bourbon with anything other than water. I love guests who are willing to try great classic bourbon cocktails in the way they were meant to be enjoyed!
DONT Be Afraid To Try Something New
Case in Point: A guest approaches a bourbon bar. The shelf is packed with 70 to 90 different brands. Overwhelmed by the selection, the guest falls back to their old standby of Jack Daniels.
This is an easy faux pas to commit – and its understandable. There’s a wide variety of high quality bourbon on the market today, making it easy to feel overwhelmed.
Every bourbon has its own unique personality, palate, texture, and composition. Every bourbon is different – as there is something to love about all of them. My favorite changes depending on the season, my mood that day, and whether I am having a meal or a good cigar. This is a conclusion I wouldn’t have come to had I not extended myself and tried something new.
The right way to do it: Ask your bartender for a “flight” – a sampler of three or more half-pours of different bourbons. This will expose you to some brands and characteristics that you may not have come across in the past. If you are curious, ask your bartender which bourbons pair well with different occasions and seasons (summer bourbons versus winter bourbons/bad day bourbons versus Saturday night bourbons).
I love to sit and sip with new guests as they discover notes and flavors that they didn’t realize existed!
Take Your Time and Savor The Flavor
Case in Point: A guest is accustomed to drinking in night clubs and dive bars, where taking shots is par for the course. They ask for a round of Blanton’s shots.
Taking shots of bourbon defeats the purpose of drinking bourbon – olfaction and gustation. In laymen terms, bourbon should be enjoyed in three steps: smell it, taste it, let it finish on your palate.
Bourbon shouldn’t be treated like a chore that is to be rushed through on your way to getting so blasted that you wind up in a Mexican prison cell. Save that for tequila.
There are some bourbons made for shooting, and there are some bourbons made for sipping. Sipping bourbons are high quality, high proof, and are hand crafted to be enjoyed slowly. I once poured a guest a Booker’s bourbon neat. She had downed the shot like it was some cheap vodka. For those of you who don’t know, Booker’s is a small batch uncut, unfiltered, straight-from-the-barrel, 129+ proof connoisseurs bourbon.
The right way to do it: Grab a nice Glencairn snifter, sit back with a fine whiskey, sip, and enjoy life. If you must take a shot of bourbon (God only knows why you would), there are bourbons out there that are for that. Or, if you must do a shot of bourbon…
Ask me for a shot of Jack Daniels.
Ask me for a shot of Old Crow.
Ask me for a shot of Benchmark.
In other words, ask for “well” bourbon. This is the bottom of the shelf stuff that your bartender uses to make mixed drinks.
I’m one to keep the bourbon snobbery to a minimum, but I have love for the art and craft of fine whiskey consumption. A good bourbon bartender or consumer will always appreciate guests who have the same amount of love and appreciation!