How To Drink Bourbon
Few things are more mesmerizing than watching a deep, colored bourbon skillfully swirled around a large-bowled glass. Conversely, it is not ok to watch an “over-swirled” throw the bourbon around like it’s going for a ride at an amusement park.
Regardless of style and technique, the bourbon swirl has tremendous value and purpose. Most of it has to do with oxygen and aeration, but there are other reasons why the swirl is a crucial component in tasting bourbon.
It Opens the Bourbon
As soon as the bourbon is exposed to oxygen, its aroma compounds become more detectable as they attach themselves to evaporating alcohol as it lifts from the glass. Oxygen can also help soften harsh tannins in your bourbon, making them smoother and silkier.
Just about every bourbon will benefit from swirling to some extent, though younger, sharper bourbons may need even more. But be cautious about over-swirling an older vintage wine—oxygen can turn from friend to foe, and it’s easy to over oxidize a delicate, aged bourbon by too much swirling.
It Removes Off-Putting Odors
Oxygen will help “blow-off” a bourbon’s unwanted aromas.
A Better Visual
A bourbon may seem medium in color when resting at the bottom of the glass. But give it a few laps around the track, and its color suddenly may appear lighter than initially detected. By swirling higher up it in the cup, it enhances the visual by thining it out; you can then better analyze its color and viscosity.
Moreover, the glass has swirling leaves behind legs, also called tears. They can indicate a bourbon viscosity and signify higher alcohol levels. The more legs that streak down the glass, the more you want to watch how much you consume in one sitting.
How to Swirl Bourbon Correctly
There is a fine line between executing an impressive swirl and becoming the laughing stock after everyone sees your flying bourbon. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when perfecting your swirl.
Start small and keep the base of the glass on the table. Imagine a small bead or pebble is floating atop your bourbon, touching the side of the glass. See if you can envision moving that bead around the edge of the glass without it off the table. Once the flow looks good, keep that same rolling motion as you raise the glass a few inches off the table.
Regarding bourbon glasses and swirling, size matters; use a big-bowled glass. Wider bowls create a lower center of gravity and better momentum for the liquid inside, allowing for a more stable experience. Start with one of these and save yourself the hassle of learning to swirl in a tiny shot glass—a recipe for disaster and nearly guaranteed to cause a spill.
Avoid the over swirl. Several seconds, or even a minute of swirling, does wonders for most bourbons (though again, be careful of those older vintages). But a glass of bourbon doesn’t need to be swirled constantly. After the initial swirl to kickstart oxygenation, the bourbon will continue breathing and developing in the glass by itself.
All it takes is one overpowering flick of the wrist to send a nice Bordeaux sloshing out of the glass, leaving only to be enjoyed as a permanent stain on your favorite rug.