When you go out, what do you always order? Is the first thing you do to get a beer? Or do you never turn down a bottle of red? Perhaps a Martini, that perennial favorite, is more your speed. Even though bourbon is a complicated and excellent drink, only a small fraction of people choose it as their go-to.

Newbies to bourbon may be concerned that they won’t like the flavor. Nonetheless, bourbon is not any more irritating than any other spirit, and it has more flavor per volume than several drinks. What, exactly, does bourbon have in terms of flavor? For those who have never had bourbon before, here is a brief introduction to the spirit’s flavor.

What Is Bourbon?

Understanding what bourbon is can help with appreciating the nuances of an excellent bourbon whiskey (and there are nuances in good bourbon, trust us).  American-made bourbon is a subset of the whiskey category. Although it was first manufactured in Bourbon County, Kentucky, bourbon can currently be produced in any state.

When bottled, the alcohol content of bourbon must be at least 40%. Bourbon can be brewed from a variety of grains, but at least 51% of the grain bill must be corn. It takes at least two years of aging in new American charred oak barrels before bourbon can be bottled. The color of this liqueur ranges from light amber to dark oaky brown, much like caramel.

What Are The Requirements for Making a Bourbon?

Bourbon whiskey has specific needs, and we’ll break them down for you here because the details can get complicated:

  • First and foremost, bourbon must be produced within the United States of America to be considered legal. Bourbon can only claim to be “made in Kentucky” if it is.
  • All bourbon whiskies have a mash bill that consists of at least 51% maize, with the other ingredients typically including wheat, barley, and rye.
  • All bourbons spend at least two years aging in new, charred American oak barrels.
  • All bourbons have to be bottled at least 40% alcohol by volume.

What Is The Smell & Taste of Bourbon?

Now that you have a foundational understanding of what makes whiskey bourbon, we can move on to the flavor characteristics. Flavorings in bourbon range from distiller to distiller and recipe to recipe. While no two bottles of bourbon are exactly alike, there are still a few constants. Bourbon typically has caramel, vanilla, and wood flavors. Despite not having any sugar added to it, whiskey has a surprisingly “sweet” flavor.

Where Does the Flavour of Bourbon Come From?

Why does bourbon have so many nuances of flavor whereas vodka, another distilled beverage, is called “neutral”? The mash and the aging time are the two most important factors.

What Effect Does the Mash Process Have on the Taste of Bourbon?

The mash bill is the primary factor in determining the flavor of bourbon. The mash bill specifies the proportion of grains used in the whiskey’s fermentation process. The mash bill is the foundation of whiskey, and just as different types of grapes can affect the taste of wine, so too can various mash bill combos affect the flavor of bourbon, making it more robust or mellow.

Because all bourbons should have a mash bill of no less than 51% maize to still be labeled a bourbon, these pairings are restricted. In other words, maize, known for its mild sweetness and subtlety, is always the star of the show. Since the remaining 49% of the mash bill is not subject to inspection, distillers have some leeway in terms of flavor. The remainder of the mash can be made up of any combination of corn, wheat, rye, and barley. The bourbon’s flavor can be altered to be more spicy, earthy, malty, sweet, or mellow depending on the additives employed.

How Does Ageing Affect the Flavour of Bourbon?

The aging process is the other major factor in bourbon’s flavor. Two years of aging in new charred oak barrels are required for all bourbons. All spirits, including whiskey, begin as a clear liquid. The liquor’s rich color and robust flavor are both results of the aging process. Whiskey is dark in color but vodka is transparent since vodka is not aged. Clear tequila, for example, might turn dark after a long aging process. But how does the whiskey acquire its color and flavor from the barrel?

Changes in humidity and temperature cause wood to swell and shrink. Two years later, the whiskey will have absorbed the barrel’s flavors and colors thanks to the wood’s natural breathing process. This might add a vanilla flavor and make the whiskey darker.

Although bourbon has to be aged in oak for at least two years, the quality can vary from distillery to distillery based on the type of oak used and the heat applied to the barrels throughout the aging process.

What Is Finished Whiskey?

You’re probably wondering, “Is there anything else I can do to alter the whiskey’s flavor before it’s bottled?” It is the correct response. Whiskey that has undergone a second round of aging in a barrel other than an American oak one is considered finished whiskey. This adds nuances of flavor like vanilla, honey, tobacco, or fruit to the whiskey.

To ensure that our whiskies have the most robust flavors possible, we utilize our proprietary spires, which are spiral-cut, toasted pieces of wood.

Which Foods Complement Bourbon Best?

You should try some bourbon now that you’ve learned the basics of its flavor profile. The excellent news is that bourbon whiskey pairs nicely with many different ingredients.

Bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and on occasion an egg white for foam make up the classic cocktail known as the Whiskey sour. Try it over ice, freshly shaken, for a sweet and sour experience. Whiskey’s caramel and vanilla undertones go well with citrus to create the ideal sipping beverage.

Whiskey is also a popular choice for mixing with soft drinks, especially cola. Whiskey and Coke, as well as whiskey and ginger ale, are two of the most ordered drinks in bars.

What to Take Away From the Bourbon Taste

It’s both thrilling and terrifying to try bourbon for the first time. Bourbon has among the more palatable flavor profiles of any hard liquor, and sampling it can introduce you to a whole new universe of flavors.

Vanilla, caramel, and wood are all prominent in the flavor of bourbon, though the proportions of these ingredients can vary according to the specific bottle. These characteristics are infused into the whiskey during its mash bill and aging processes, with different methods yielding somewhat distinct whiskies. These flavors go well with a wide variety of others, such as citrus and dark sodas. On the other hand, bourbon whiskey tastes delicious neat or in an Old Fashioned.