View Full Version : Does bourbon need to breath?

11-10-2003, 19:58
As I think about the short debate over breathing bourbon that went on in relation to my tating notes about Evan Williams 23 year old bourbon, I would like to see what other who have not necessarily seen that post's opinions are.

The contention is that allowing a pur of bourbon to breath will change it flavors, let you experience more of what is in there and, in my opinion, have a more thorough experience in drinking the bourbon. I feel that the older bourbons I have in my collection mostly improve on thier sweeter aromas and flavors when allowed even fifteen minutes of just sitting and being admired and thought about. (I think I may look into to Tao of bourbon).

I guess I just sit and reflect on the day when i am enjoying a good pour and the changes in the bourbon reflect the changes in the day for me.

I would like to know from all of you out there if you think that allowing bourbon to breath increases your enjoyment of your drink or not. Please let me know.

11-10-2003, 20:26
Just like there is no definitive answer to whether a wine (especially red) benefits from 'breathing', I suspect you'll find quite a difference of opinion and experience re bourbon. Personally, I find that breathing -- like a splash of water, a la scotch whisky -- generally 'opens up' a bourbon. That is, it releases more of the aromas, which affect and enhance tasting (try tasting with your nose pinched if you think the nose and palate are unrelated!). I especially find this with older whiskies, because their additional time in the barrel imparts more heavily flavors not from the original grain bill, but it's the grain that gives each bourbon its unique flavors.
I almost always sip bourbon from a snifter for that reason -- I like to swirl it like a wine, just to allow more surface area to aerate. (Frankly, it's also just pretty in the glass.)

11-10-2003, 21:31
This is a worthy topic to discuss. I think the consensus among experts in the past has been that bourbon doesn't need to "open up," that it expresses itself quite well immediately. I have always read this to mean that people who cut their tasting teeth on wine or scotch find bourbon's nose so potent that they can't imagine any benefit to be had from it "opening up" any further. To interpret this from a bourbon-drinkers point of view, bourbon has perfected in its basic design that flaw of wines and scotches that requires the corrective of breathing. In bourbon, no such corrective is needed, but exposure to air and body temperature and room temperature water all change and, arguably, enhance the sensory experience of tasting bourbon whiskey.

So the answer to the question "does bourbon need to breath?" is no. Breathing as a corrective is not needed. If the question is "does allowing bourbon to breath enhance the tasting experience," the answer is yes.

11-11-2003, 05:04
Very good points by both Chuck and Tim. While the experts will say no, it does not, I personally find letting it breath a bit opens up the whiskey and makes many more enjoyable. Also, I find myself always swirling the bourbon around in my Riedel bourbon glasses to help this process along a bit. I think what is important is whether you find it aids in your bourbon drinking experience and it doesn't matter what others may say to the contrary.

11-11-2003, 06:20
So the answer to the question "does bourbon need to breath?" is no. Breathing as a corrective is not needed.

Not being a consiour of wines and not really liking scotch, I guess I didn't know that allowing them to "breath" was for corrective measures.

If the question is "does allowing bourbon to breath enhance the tasting experience," the answer is yes.

This is more of the way I was going about the question. I find that as I get older, there are less shots of bourbon going in me and many more sips. I am going for the "total" experience and that does mean the aroma in addition to the flavors, not the buzz. The swirling, sniffing and relaxing with it (although my wife thinks it odd that I sniff my pour (she doesn't like bourbon, though)) is what creates the enjoyment I now have for the stuff. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/yum.gif

11-11-2003, 06:38
My experience with red wine has been that--with most wines--the aroma and taste improve after the wine has been decanted and allowed to breath for a short while. I have also found that many whiskeys--of all types--benefit from setting in your glass for 20 minutes or so. But, that's just my experience. That's what works for me.

As for bourbon, I recall something interesting that Preston Van Winkle said at a tasting I attended earlier this year. He said scientific analysis (please forgive me because I do not remember the name of the process) shows that when whiskey is poured into the glass, the alcohol vapors rise to the top and form an invisible layer above the liquid. Swirling whiskey will not truly release the aromas of the whiskey because that layer of alcohol vapor will still be on top. What Preston said he does is, rather than swirl, he blows briefly into the glass to dissipate the alcohol vapor, then noses and tastes. To be honest, I tried it Preston's way, but did not notice much difference. I still think a few drops of water help open up the aromas.


11-11-2003, 06:46
I agree that a bit of time, allowing the bourbon to breathe enhances the sensory experience. I think that swirling the bourbon in your favorite glass helps as well. Finally, I agree with SpeedyJohn, regarding the benefit of water. I will generally taste a bourbon neat, but I generally prefer the aroma/taste/finish better after some water has been added.


11-11-2003, 12:31
I agree. And while I may not let my bourbon "breathe" per se, I take my sweet time drinking it, and have notice that a lot of bottlings "open up" 1/2 way through.