What Does Bourbon Taste Like: Top Tasting Notes

Are you new to Bourbon? Does your glass of Bourbon taste different every time you have one?

This is not unique, and it happens with everyone new to the taste of Bourbon. Every glass, or I should say a bottle of Bourbon, tastes different because it is made from different ingredients and with a different technique.

Bourbon has become one of the biggest crazes amongst Americans in the past few decades. This can be inferred from the stat that Kentucky is the birthplace of Bourbon, and last year its Bourbon distilleries filled almost 2.1 million barrels of Bourbon. That’s not all! The total number of Bourbon barrels in Kentucky distilleries is around 10 million, which is more than double its population! Aren’t these facts amazing?

Coming back to the main question, every barrel of Bourbon is made differently, so every bottle tastes different. But to be precise, there are six dominant flavours of bourbon: cinnamon, flower, caramel, grain, wood, and nutmeg.

What Does Bourbon Taste Like?

Cinnamon Bourbon

If your Bourbon tastes like cinnamon, this can be due to the yeast or rye-grain used in making it. The cinnamon taste can also come from the barrel, which was used for its maturation.

So there is no one reason why your Bourbon tastes like cinnamon, but for sure, some Bourbon tastes like cinnamon. And many pro-drinkers address such flavours as “spicy.”

Floral Bourbon

Bourbon is not made of flowers or any of their parts. But some Bourbon might have a flowery flavour. This floral flavour is the by-product that yeast produces during fermentation.

We all know yeast are microorganisms that are used for fermentation. Besides producing carbon dioxide and ethanol, they also create flavour compounds.

If manufacturers treat nicely, these flavours can pass from distillation and maturation and to your glass. Now you know why your Bourbon sometimes tastes like a flower!

Wood Bourbons

Bourbon matures in a wooden barrel; hence, it will likely take some wood flavour. Most of Bourbon’s taste comes from its barrel.

In a barrel, Bourbon takes nearly four years to mature. The longer it stays there, the more woody flavour it will acquire.

Also, mostly all the barrels are made of Oakwood. Hence you can taste almond, pecan, cedar, walnut, and oak flavours. All these flavours are oak-derived.

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Some of these Bourbons can also be bitter tastings like rich tobacco or black tea or leather taste. If Bourbon is new to you, you might not appreciate these flavours.

Grain Bourbon

Grain Bourbons taste almost the opposite of Wood Bourbons. They are aged gently, and they hardly pick up any characteristics of Oak. Grain Bourbon tastes like rye, Barley, wheat, or corn.

You may also find notes like cornbread or hot cereal. Grain Bourbons are not full-matured; hence you get the grainy taste from its younger version.

Nutmeg Bourbon

One of the ingredients of Bourbon is Barley. If the percentage of Barley while making Bourbon is higher, you get nutmeg flavours. Some of these flavours are pumpkin pie, eggnog, and toasted nuts.

So next time, if your Bourbon has a nutty flavour, you know what you are drinking.

Caramel Bourbon

Caramel Bourbons are mostly sweet in flavour. Bourbons get the caramel flavour from the charred oak wood used to make barrels and later used for maturing Bourbons. Charring caramelises the barrel’s wood sugar, which then creates the flavours of caramel and vanilla.

Caramel and sweet vanilla are the most common flavours of Bourbon. Almost all the Bourbons contain such flavours.

However, some Bourbons are even sweeter than them. This may be because of more time spent in the barrel. You might also taste honey, chocolate, maple, butterscotch, or custard flavoured Bourbon. All these are notes of caramel Bourbon.

If you are new to Bourbon, caramel Bourbons might be your thing. Since they are sweet, you can even have them neat.

How to Taste Bourbon?

If you want to enjoy a glass of Bourbon after a long and tiring day, you should first know how you can enjoy it. Sipping Bourbon is not like drinking a regular cup of coffee. It is more like an art, and if you practice daily, you will enjoy it.

Selecting the Glass

I might not be the very first one to tell you that not all glasses are meant for all types of drinks. When you need to smell your drink before sipping it, you must take a glass with a wider bowl.

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A no-stem wine glass or a shot glass will be great. But before using, make sure your nose easily fits in it so that you can always smell your drink before sipping.

Colour of the drink

The colour of the Bourbon depends upon how long it has been maturing in the barrel. Bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels, so if they spend more time in it, they will be darker in appearance and vice-versa.

So if you are sipping honey-coloured Bourbon, you might be sipping an old Bourbon. If your Bourbon’s colour is anywhere near golden or amber, it might be a new one.


Taking in the smell is the most important part of tasting Bourbon. After sniffing, you will get to know which flavour you will be sipping. Pour Bourbon in the glass and take a small sniff.

If you get a strong alcoholic smell, open your mouth and breathe through it. This will allow you to take in more Bourbon smell without putting the nose hairs in between.

Now let your Bourbon sit for a few seconds, and then give it a few swirls and sniff it again. Swirling the drink is essential because it will help dissipate some of the alcohol, and you will get a better aroma of the Bourbon.

It will be quite challenging to recognise the flavours initially through swirls and sniffs. But as you keep practicing, you will learn to identify each flavour individually.

Taste the drink

Take a small sip and swirl the drink in your mouth now. Let the drink hit every part of your tongue. Now think about the flavours you can identify.

Don’t fall for the alcoholic taste. Try and taste beyond. Initially, you might only be able to identify a sweet flavour. But as soon as you gulp down your drink, you might be able to name a few flavours.

You will need some practice to get acquainted with this entire process, but once you are through it, you will identify the flavours.

How Should I Drink Bourbon?

After you have learned the right way to taste the Bourbon flavours, you now need to know how to drink Bourbon without spoiling its taste and methods to enjoy your drink even more.

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If you want to explore the flavours and taste the spirit, taking in neat (without adding anything) or straight (stirred/shaken with ice) is the right way.

On the rocks

You can take Bourbon on the rocks, which means ice. This is a great way to start taking Bourbon if you are a beginner. It can be a refreshing way to acclimatise to its taste.

However, by mixing ice, you will adulterate its flavours. Here a small tip that might help you. Take a larger ice cube or sphere and add it on top of the drink.

Larger cubes melt slower than small ones. This way, your drink will be cold, less watery, and more flavourful.

With water

You can ask also mix water with Bourbon. Some regular drinkers say that if you add one or two drops to the drink helps enhance the flavours.

Mixing water will soften the alcohol and also dilute it a bit. A small tip here, use only filter water, no sparkling or ice water. Also, don’t add a lot of water in the beginning.

Try to add water in splashes. If you add a lot of water, you will add more and more Bourbon, which might eventually get wasted.


You can also prepare several cocktails with Bourbon by mixing a few ingredients such as mint and sugar or drinks like whiskey and vermouth.

Lastly, you can always pair your glass of Bourbon with breakfast or dinner, to be precise, whatever you enjoy eating.

Final words

Every new bottle of Bourbon can amaze you through its flavours. Now next time when you are out with your friends, show them your drinking skills.

Swirl and sniff your Bourbon like you are a pro-drinker. Please talk about the flavours in it and keep your friends guessing.

No skill can be new once you have excelled in it. So let us know how was your last night out with friends over a drink and what you had, and what flavours you could identify.