DrinkWire is Liquor.com’s showcase for the best articles, recipes and reviews from the web’s top writers and bloggers. In this post, Richard Hammond offers tips for new bourbon drinkers.
Like many others in the UK I started off as a scotch drinker and for many years had little to no knowledge of bourbon or any American whiskey for that matter. After around 10 years of only drinking scotch and the odd Irish whisky I started to try a few of the lower end bourbons such as Makers Mark and Buffalo Trace in pubs.
I liked them, but they didn’t really blow me away. By that point I had tried some really good quality Scotch and only the cheaper end of what bourbon had to offer and I never really tried anything more premium but continued to have the odd Makers Mark.
Then I went on holiday to Croatia for a friend’s wedding and an old friend I was sharing a villa with brought along a bottle of George T Stagg. I’d never heard of it before but he told me it was nearly 70% ABV and would “put hairs on my chest”. Being as smooth as a baby’s behind across my upper torso I was excited by this prospect.
He fixed us both up a generous pour and I gave it a sniff. It was amazing but quite harsh on the nose because of the high proof and I thought that it wouldn’t taste great because of that.
I was wrong.
It really blew me away. More than any whisky I had tried up until that point.
The flavour profile was outstanding with huge caramel tones and so much depth and it didn’t taste like it was nearly 70% alcohol at all.
Since that day I have started drinking bourbon regularly having tried some amazing stuff and also building up quite a collection.
I haven’t stopped drinking scotch though and would never try to partake in the pointless exercise of proclaiming one to be “better” than the other. They are both great and I enjoy drinking both of them.
I think many in the UK will be like me having tried whiskey as a young man and maybe not so much bourbon, so I thought I would write a few notes for scotch drinkers that might want to start drinking bourbon. Here they are:
1. Try a mid-range bourbon first
Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with the lower end bourbons but I just think it is best to try something a little further up the scale otherwise you might not like it and it may put you off which would be a shame. No need to go crazy just something mid range, you could try it in a bar or buy a bottle. Some suggestions are Michters, Eagle Rare 10, Four Roses Single Barrel, Blantons Gold, Smooth Ambler Old scout 10, Weller 12 (if you can find it).
2. Read some reviews
Get an idea of what people think of the different bourbons by reading some reviews first. These will generally include tasting notes so you will get a good idea of what is going to be most favourable to your palate as well as what is held in the highest regard in your price range.
3. Choose something with similarities to your favourite scotch
If you are a little dubious about bourbon in general, it is a good idea to match up a bourbon with some of the characteristics of your favourite scotch. If you are a fan of sweeter scotch and sherry casks then you will probably like bourbon. If you like peaty scotch then you may want to start with a peated bourbon such as Kings County. If you like a light Speyside then a subtle bourbon such as Basil Haydens may be a good choice.
4. Don’t go for barrel strength straight away
Barrel or cask strength whiskey is often not watered down after coming out of the barrel. Although there are some barrel strength scotches it is far more common in bourbon with many connoisseurs preferring these stronger offerings. It is probably not a good idea to start with one of these high ABV bourbons though as it may be a little overbearing. Try something in the 45-50% range where many good bourbons sit.
I hope these tips may persuade you scotch drinkers to take a punt on bourbon, I think most that do will not regret it.