BOURBON NEAT: Bourbon served at room temperature, and without any water, ice, or mixer.
What makes a perfect sipping when the the wind turns cold? Let’s discuss. Then, we’ll share our teams’ favorite Bourbons for sipping neat (or on the rocks, if you prefer!). As long as there is a nip in the air, there is a nip in our glass.
Picking the perfect sipping Bourbon
Bourbon tends to be sweeter than most whiskey by nature. The main reason for this is because there is a minimum 51% corn on its mash bill, thought most distilleries tend to stay around 70%. That other 30% makes a huge difference in how you perceive each bourbon. Need a refresher course on how to best taste bourbon or whiskey? Click below.
After refreshing your knowledge of tasting, take the time to think about what you want in your Bourbon neat. Depending on your preference, you may be looking for something a bit spicier to bring up the cozy factor, something smooth that sits well after a hearty dinner, or you may be looking for a year-round favorite that’s just right at every time of year.
What qualities make a good sipping Bourbon?
There are so many good Bourbons—how do you determine whether one will be best sipped on its own? One good way is to drink a bunch of bourbon and see if you like it. If that isn’t your job, like us, this may not be time- or cost-efficient.
While this decision also has a lot to do with your palate, the most common quality people look for is balance. An easy sweetness defines most Bourbons, due to the high corn content used. When we say sweetness, please know that we’re talking more about apple juice vs cotton candy sweetness. This sweetness offers the best place evaluate balance and introduce a sipping whiskey into your life.
On that note, do you prefer apple cider? Then you may want to look for a mash bill that includes rye with the corn. What’s a mash bill? Read all about them here. You want a richer, rounded grain flavor and less apple? Look for malted barley. Looking for a nutty, cashew finish? Look for wheat, or malted wheat.
One other important aspect many people take into consideration is body. Can you tell if a bourbon will have a rich, rounded body before opening the bottle? In Bourbon’s case, most of the time you can! The color of the liquid inside has a lot to do with this—as long as it’s in a clear bottle. *wink, wink* Bourbon cannot have any coloring additives, so all of its richness and color come from aging. The darker the Bourbon, usually the longer it is aged lending a more rounded the body and flavorful taste profile.
However, balance is also a big factor here. The age must be balanced with alcohol content. Higher ABV whiskeys will technically have a heavier body, but the alcohol can overwhelm your palate and hide any delicate flavors. You also will be paying less attention to this characteristic because your mouth, throat, and chest will be burning and that usually takes precedence.
How do you know whether to drink Bourbon neat or on the rocks?
Enjoying cask strength or other higher alcohol by volume (ABV) Bourbons often involves slowly watering them down, so you can find your perfect alchohol strength. We advise diluting with distilled water whenever possible, as the mineral content in spring and tap water can alter the flavor. Add a few drops, smell it, try it, and add more if desired. Be careful drinking high proof (+50% ABV) spirts unadultered, unless you like breathing fire—and that’s a personal choice!
Some lighter options can be enjoyed neat because they go into the bottle already balanced in the eyes (or palate) of the distiller/blender. Others do well with a large ice cube, which will keep your drink cold without adding a lot of water since it melts more slowly. Some whiskeys are a little “hot” right away and could do with some water or small ice cubes. Waft it under your chin. If your nose hair burns when you smell it, we would advise adding either or both right away, then gradually adding more as you see fit.
Our team’s picks below are meant to be an easy transition into sipping. These can all be enjoyed neat, as we prefer, but you do you! Read on for our 5 favorite bourbons to sip neat…
Based out of Sebastopol, CA, Spirit Works was the 2020 ADI Distiller of the Year. They have a brilliant female distiller that produces a Bourbon with a hint of Butterscotch that will be the perfect night cap to every holiday.
Willie’s Distillery, based out of Ennis, Montana, produces a smooth Bourbon that can be enjoyed all year round. It has just enough spice to keep you warm in the fall, and is a great companion to a camp fire.
Tamar Distillery in Mendocino County, CA has a young bourbon that is perfect for those just getting into Bourbon. It’s smooth and easy to drink- this is how young is done right!
Hidden just out of NYC in Gardiner, NY, Tuthilltown Distillery produces Hudson Whiskey. This gem will warm you from the inside out- especially once you realize that this was one of the pioneering companies of craft distilling. Co-owner Ralph Erenzo paved the way for tasting rooms and distilleries across the country.
The Crafty Cask's Pick
Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon exudes robust flavors as you’d expect from Texas. Grain to glass, utilizing primarily locally grown material, the whole team here at The Crafty Cask loves what Balcones is distilling down in Waco.
Did you see your favorite on our list? Our favorites change from week to week and month to month, so let us know what we’re missing out on. Sound off below on your favorite sipping Bourbons, so we can taste your favorites too!