I get asked many questions about Bourbon. I thought I would take some time here to answer some of the most often asked questions. Feel free to ask other questions in the comments and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.
Question: What is your favorite Bourbon?
Answer: What are you buying me? My favorite Bourbon is free Bourbon. All of the Bourbons I have drunk in the past have some qualities that I can appreciate. If a person is kind enough to buy me a drink of Bourbon, I am grateful for the kindness and I will enjoy it.
Question: What is the best way to drink Bourbon?
Answer: However you most enjoy it. There is no wrong way to drink Bourbon. If you enjoy a Pappy and Coke, go for it. As long as you are drinking Bourbon, you are keeping distillers in business and people employed.
Question: Should I drink whiskey neat or add water or ice?
Answer: There is no wrong way to drink whiskey. I like to drink it neat, but I know many people who do prefer adding a little water or a cube of ice. I will add some water on whiskey that is high proof – 115 proof or higher. Too much alcohol deadens the taste buds so very high proof alcohol loses its flavor after the first drink. I am not a fan of ice. Cold numbs the taste buds and you don’t experience the full flavor of whiskey with ice.
Question: Why do you include dried cranberries and pecans in your tasting reviews?
Answer: Ouita Michel does an excellent presentation where she pairs foods such as cheese, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, fresh fruits and sorghum with Woodford Reserve. Ouita’s presentation demonstrates that foods work to bring out different flavors in the whiskey. I have picked the dried cranberries and pecans to taste with my reviews in order to illustrate these flavor changes. Julian van Winkle swears that the best thing to eat with his whiskeys is aged gouda cheese. Kelly Ramsey has made pairing chocolate and whiskey into a real art with her truffles at Art Eatables. I encourage people to experiment with whiskey and food pairings.
Question: Why do you always use a Glencairn glass to serve the whiskey in your reviews?
Answer: I like the Glencairn glass. It is a good, solid tasting glass. I have tasted from a few glasses that were better, but they are more expensive and much more fragile than the Glencairn glass. I want a good funnel-like opening to direct the aromas to my nose. I want a glass that I can clean without breaking the glass stem. Most of all, I want to use the same style glass for every review. Glassware can change the way a whiskey is perceived, so my setups have to be as close to the same for every whiskey review as I can make possible. In my opinion, the Glencairn glass is the best glass for the job.
Question: How old should American Straight Whiskey be?
Answer: American Straight Whiskey is aged at least two years in unused cooperage, so unlike Scotch or Irish whiskey, it does not need to be aged as long to benefit from the barrel. The tea bag analogy is what most distillers will use to explain this process. The first time you use a teabag, the more flavor comes out of the bag, compared to a second or third use. To get the same flavor, you have to let the teabag steep in the hot water longer.
This is a good start of an explanation, but there are other factors involved as well. The barrel entry proof and barrel placement in the warehouse are strong flavor sources. Then there are factors dealing with climate – Texas has much hotter summers than Pennsylvania, or even Kentucky. Nevada is much drier than Florida. Where the whiskey is made and aged plays a huge role in the final taste of the whiskey.
Generally, I would say I like a Kentucky Bourbon at an age of 6 – 12 years, unless it has a low barrel entry proof and then I would say 4 –8 years. I have had many excellent whiskeys at the age of two or three years old. My general rule is “Older is not better – Better is better.” That is why we have distillers making decisions about how long to age a product.
I hope these answers help people better understand some of my blogs. If you have other questions for me, please ask them in the comments section here and I will try to answer them for you.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller