1. Order it “neat” or “up.” These terms are often confused, even by bartenders. “Neat” means simply liquor that’s poured directly into a glass at room temperature. “Up” means that it has been shaken (sometimes stirred) with ice and then poured off the ice into a glass.
2. Add a couple drops of quality water to neat bourbon. You’ll be surprised at how much more flavor it brings out.
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3. Never mix good bourbon with Coke or any other soft drink. This may be necessary for choking down cheap bourbon, but it’s an insult to quality bourbon.
4. Pay attention to the age of the bourbon. While some younger bourbons can be quite flavorful, those aged eight years or more tend to be some of the best (and priciest).
5. Take note of the distillery. Some distilleries bottle the same recipe for their high-quality bourbons under a more affordable label. They may be aged less or blended differently, but you’re still drinking quality bourbon.
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6. To taste bourbon properly, order it “neat” in a snifter or Glencairn glass, put your nose in the glass and breathe through your mouth to note the aroma. Take a sip, let it linger on your tongue briefly, and then swirl it so it hits all of your taste receptors. Note the flavors, swallow, and think about the finish. In other words, how does it linger on your tongue? Add a few drops of water, repeat and note the differences.
7. To make a mint julep or other bourbon cocktail requiring simple syrup, make the syrup fresh with powdered sugar and a bit of water strained over ice. Powdered sugar dissolves more quickly than granulated and has a fresher, less syrupy flavor. Always crush fresh mint leaves for a mint julep.
8. Make a strong bourbon-honey tea with your favorite herbal tea and slices of ginger to battle a cold. This is old-time medicine that will help you get through it and forget your woes.
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9. Argue over each of the above points, because hardly anyone has the same opinion when it comes to bourbon.
10. When finished arguing, calm down and enjoy the camaraderie that inevitably results from responsibly sipping quality bourbon with friends.
This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Fall 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.