Does The Type Of Ice You Pair With Bourbon Actually Make A Difference?

Bourbon drinkers are a discerning lot. And that makes sense, considering that the American Bourbon Association has strict rules and standards dictating what spirits can be rightfully called "bourbon." A type of whiskey, bourbon must be aged for two years in new, charred oak barrels. It must be made in the United States, from at least 51% corn. And, perhaps most notably, it cannot contain any artificial colors or flavors, making it unique from other types of scotch and whiskey (all bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon). 

The lack of additives allows bourbon's subtle flavors and delicate aroma to shine through, enticing tasters with notes of caramel, toasted nuts, vanilla, oak, and even fruit. While some bourbon drinkers avoid dilution of any kind, others feel that bourbon on ice, or with a splash of water, can actually bring out these rich flavors. 

All the same, the last thing any serious bourbon lover wants to do is water down their drink. So, what's the best way to cool the drink without diluting the flavors? Seasoned bourbon experts recommend using large, solid chunks of ice.

The bigger the better

Larger pieces of ice melt slower than smaller cubes or shavings, allowing the flavors and aroma of the bourbon to emerge gradually. As Beau Williams, owner of Kansas City's Julep, told, this allows for a more laid back sipping experience, as well as a more even one. 

"I prefer to take my time," Williams said to the outlet, "and I want a similar experience from when I start to when I finish." And if you're enjoying your bourbon "on the rocks," a rocks glass allows room for a large ice cube or sphere to remain in the center and melt evenly. For connoisseurs who enjoy savoring every sip, prolonging the experience surely won't be a problem. 

If you're a first-time taster, there's no shame in adding a little water to your bourbon to lessen the intensity. Rabbit Hole Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, recommends adding just a few drops at a time, sipping after each addition, until you find the right balance. To maximize enjoyment if you're sipping sans ice, Williams also recommends using a curved glass with a tapered top to "capture aromas and funnel them upwards." 

What's old is new again...

The Old Fashioned is the most popular cocktail made with bourbon, and it's simple enough for even the most diehard bourbon purists. Featuring just a few simple ingredients — typically bourbon, sugar, orange bitters, and ice — it's just enough to sweeten and enhance bourbon's flavor without overpowering its warm notes and aroma. An orange peel and/or some cherries are usually the only accompaniment. 

The classic cocktail is experiencing a renewed popularity, with some mixologists getting creative. Ingredients such as smoked maple syrup for depth, club soda or ginger ale for brightness and fizz, honey for subtle sweetness, and different types of fruit juice or nectar, such as peach and fig, are popping up on boutique cocktail menus across the country. 

And don't worry if you're not a straight bourbon sipper right off the bat. Beau Williams said it best: The only wrong way to drink bourbon is "not enjoying it while you're doing it."