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A Beginner’s Guide to Bourbon Tasting

Bourbon Tasting | BLEND

Bourbon is a sophisticated drink–and one that’s all American. From the Old Bourbon region of Kentucky, this Southern whiskey is distilled from corn and aged in oak barrels. If you’re new to the drink, you can quickly become an aficionado with bourbon tastings. In this blog, we’ll tell you everything you need to know for a successful bourbon tasting.

The Tasting Itself

Keep these five things in mind when tasting bourbon: glass, appearance, aroma, flavor, and finish.

Bourbon Tasting| BLENDGlass

Choose a glass with a wide opening so you can properly smell the bourbon and identify different aromas before tasting it. The best type of glass to use is a Glencairn glass. It has a small base, which makes for a handy grip when you’re rotating the glass to look at the bourbon’s appearance. It also has a small neck and flared rim, which gathers the bourbon’s aromas while dispersing some of the alcohol smell. White wine glasses, short glasses, and whiskey sifters are also good for bourbon tastings, since they’re small enough to concentrate the aromas.


After you’ve selected your tasting glass and poured the bourbon, hold the glass up to the light to get a good look at it. Is it light or dark? The longer a bourbon has aged, the darker it will be, but that doesn’t mean a light bourbon is bad. Colors of bourbon vary from pale straw to amber to mahogany to treacle. Is your bourbon cloudy or clear? Clear bourbon has been filtered, while cloudy has not, although cloudy bourbon is perfectly safe (and flavorful).


Swirl the bourbon in your glass before sniffing to dissipate the alcohol for a better smell. You can also breathe it in through your mouth to get more of the bourbon’s scent. Common aromas you’ll find in bourbon are sweet, fruity or floral, spice, wood, and grain. See if you identify any of these:

  • Sweet: vanilla, caramel, honey, toffee, chocolate
  • Fruity/floral: apple, pear, citrus, rose, cherry
  • Spice: pepper, tobacco, clove, cinnamon, coffee
  • Wood: oak, cedar, pine, walnut
  • Grain: corn, malt, rye, wheat

Bourbon Tasting| BLENDFlavor

And now the moment you’ve been waiting for: your first taste. Take a sip and swirl it around so that it hits every part of your tongue. Moving it around your mouth in a “chewing” motion can help you detect all of the flavors. Try to get past the initial alcohol taste; what else is there? Is the taste similar to the aromas you just smelled or completely different? It’s okay if you can’t pinpoint exactly what the aromas and flavors are right away. Just take your time and enjoy.


Notice how the bourbon leaves your mouth after you’ve swallowed. Was it smooth or harsh? Did the taste linger (a long finish) or dissipate quickly (a short finish)? Did you taste any new flavors? You might actually taste more once you swallow the bourbon, thanks to the nose receptors at the back of your mouth. After your first taste, add a few drops of distilled water; this can open up new aromas and flavors in the bourbon and bring down the proof if it’s a high-proof spirit. All that’s left now is to enjoy the rest of your bourbon.

Tips for a Successful Bourbon Tasting

If you take your time and consider the bourbon’s aromas, flavors, and finish, your tasting will be an enjoyable experience. When tasting any spirit, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Start with a meal or carb-packed snack. This will fill up your stomach and absorb some of the alcohol you’ll be drinking.
  • Have water on hand. You’ll want to stay hydrated before, during, and after tastings.
  • Limit yourself to five or six samples, just to be safe.
  • Taste the bourbons in the right order: mild to strong, cheap to expensive, young to old, and so on. You want to save the best for last.
  • Don’t drink and drive. If you think you’ve had too much, give the keys to someone else, or call a cab.

With these tips for a successful bourbon tasting, you’re sure to become familiar will all things bourbon in no time. Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite in the process. BLEND can be part of the experience, with our wide array of handcrafted bourbons that any guest will enjoy. We hope to see you soon.

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BLEND Bar • Cigar with Davidoff Cigars® is Indianapolis and Nashville’s premier cocktail lounge and cigar bar. BLEND’s selection of premium cigars is second to none, and our walk-in humidor is one of the largest in the US. BLEND is the only appointed merchant for Davidoff cigars in Indiana, so cigar aficionados are sure to find what they are looking for.

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