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The Neck Pour: Facts and Fiction

Bourbon Neck Pour, Weller Single Barrel

Although we recently highlighted some of the key slang terms used in the bourbon world and allowed readers to test to see How Good is Your Bourbonspeak, one term that did not find its way onto our list was "neck pour." Perhaps you have heard this term, and perhaps this is the very first time that it's entering your orbit but one thing that is completely certain is that the term is fairly self-explanatory. The neck pour simply refers to that portion of liquid contained within the narrowed (in most cases) "neck" of the bottle.

What's intriguing to me about this term is the amount of airtime and conjecture that it's received over the past number of years. There is a camp of folks who believe that an initial pour from the "neck" of a bottle, those initial couple fingers in your Glencairn, don't afford the same level of enjoyment that the rest of the bottle provides. The reason for the disdain given to this pour stems from the underlying thought that bourbon opens up more when it's exposed to air. Certainly, when your bourbon is opened, it is exposed to oxygen in the air and this exposure is then tied in many bourbon lovers' minds to the process of oxidation.

What is Oxidation?

Simply put oxidation is a process whereby a chemical reaction occurs when ethanol in your bourbon comes in contact with oxygen and electrons are lost from the ethanol. Pretty deep...that process however starts long before you open your bottle and is a prolonged reaction, occurring over the course of years, not minutes.

Okay, but the Neck Pour Tastes Different

Fair enough, but it's not because of some unique physical property associated with being in a narrowing of the glass, and it's not because it hasn't yet been exposed to oxygen and began to breathe. It also doesn't happen quickly, you're not going to pour from the neck and have one experience, then pour another couple fingers and have a different one. The flavor of your whiskey can however change, and it's rooted in science, through another process that occurs inside the bottle.

Does Bourbon Change Flavor Over Time?

Yes! It absolutely does, and it's due to the process of evaporation or what some refer to as dissipation. Over time, alcohol evaporates and escapes solution as a gas. When this evaporation transpires the net effect is a subtle lowering of the overall proof of the spirit. This variation in proof is the culprit behind the variation in flavor profile as the numerous compounds that make up your bottle of bourbon may be accentuated or suppressed from your taste buds/sense of smell based on how soluble those flavor compounds are in various concentrations of alcohol. As you can imagine, this process is not one that happens with any speed and is most noticeable when measured in years and not hours.

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