The art of enjoying your bourbon can take on a lot of nuances. Some Bourboneurs like to enjoy a glass by themselves at the end of the day whilst others amongst friends, some like to drink it in a Glencairn whilst others prefer theirs in a rocks glass, some with a cube and others neat, and some like their bourbon lower proof and tame, whilst others enjoy a full throttle hazmat pour. For all the nuance however, it still all finds itself in the same place, poured into our mouths and enjoyed.
The art of enjoying your bourbon can take some effort if you're new to whiskey. You may have to keep at it to bust through what some refer to as "the wall" where, once past, you can start unpackaging what you're tasting and not just feeling like you're drinking something hot and harsh. You don't just pick up some bourbon one day and start catching notes of cardamom in the dram, you have to work into it. The ethanol in your bourbon triggers on nerve receptors which register as pain or burning and over time your body acclimates to this and all of a sudden, you'll find yourself on the other side of said wall, in the land of registering all those tasting notes that everyone likes to talk about. How best to enjoy this newfound flavor utopia? The "Kentucky Chew"...which I'd argue is "the way" and you should be chewing if you're not already!
So obviously, the bourbon goes in your mouth, that's step one and it's certainly a no brainer. But to really draw from the experience everything you can you're going to need to make this a whole mouth affair. This is where the "Kentucky Chew" as it's called comes into play. I have to admit that when I heard "Kentucky Chew" for the first time, I pictured a hot day at the ballpark watching a major leaguer spit chewing tobacco rather than a method of enjoying a refined beverage such as bourbon. Once you've got your bourbon in however way you deem it most fitting to be enjoyed and served, you're ready to "chew."
In order to do the "Kentucky Chew" you're going to need to make sure you're keeping your mouth open ever so slightly as you begin to taste your bourbon. Why do you do this? Airflow. By keeping your mouth open you're able to introduce air. Interestingly, when we taste bourbon a lot of what we're actually doing is smelling it. Taste buds are fairly dull receptors compared to our noses, which channel smells from our mouths up into our nasal passages like the flu on a chimney of a fireplace.
As you begin to bring up the glass (or in the case you're glassless and doing bottle pulls, the bottle), you're going to aim to take a single sip right down the middle of your tongue, much like you're aiming for the head pin in a game of bowling. You just need a sip, a manageable amount really. You're not aiming to down this immediately, this isn't a shot and we're not shooting.
Now that you've got your sip of bourbon in your mouth, you'll want to move it around like you're chewing it. Consider doing this for perhaps five or 10 seconds before going ahead and downing your hopefully delicious brownwater. It's during this process that you'll develop your own tasting notes...vanilla, caramel, oak char, is that rhubarb?... Once it's down the hatch, smack your lips. Why? Again, Airflow. It's at this point you can consider how it finishes. You may pick up something unexpected that wasn't a part of the experience until the crescendo!
As with everything in bourbon, there's always some historical backstory of interest to be found if you look hard enough. The "Kentucky Chew" is said to have originated from Booker Noe. Noe was rigorous in his exploration of barrels he was selecting, rolling around the whiskey in his mouth and using the lip smack to extract every bit of flavor he could pull from each selection.
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Bourboneur Glencairn Glass