Bourbon 101: Three Bourbons For Beginners (Ladies, You’ll Want to Read This!)

August 8, 2017

I know lots of ladies turn their nose up at the thought of bourbon. They may exclaim “ewww” or proclaim that it’s a man’s drink. They may even see visions of an older man sitting in a leather chair, smoking a cigar, while sipping on some bourbon. But! Bourbon isn’t just for men; it’s for everyone (ladies included!). Kentucky is responsible for 95% of the world’s bourbon, so it isn’t unusual to find just as many women drinking bourbon as men. In fact, Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women said the 15% of whiskey drinkers were women in the 1990s. Now, over 37% of women are whiskey drinkers.

“Women are absolutely the future of whiskey,” Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women Click To Tweet

Ladies can drink bourbon, just as men do. You can’t make a blanket statement, such as “I don’t like any bourbon.” That’s simply not true, because it’s ALL different. A 6 year-old bourbon is going to taste different than a 12 year-old bourbon. A wheated bourbon is going to taste different than a high-rye bourbon. Heck, a bourbon aged on the bottom floor of a rickhouse is going to taste different than a bourbon on the top floor.

Remember, all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. You cannot use these two interchangeably. Bourbon actually has no additives (aka extra flavoring), unlike some whiskies. Bourbon is just made with water, corn (at least 51% or more), and other grains, and it gets all of its flavors from the wood. Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5) state that bourbon must meet these requirements to be considered a bourbon. In fact, on May 4, 1964, Congress declared bourbon “America’s Native Spirit.” It means that to be called bourbon, it must be made in the United States.

Remember that ALL bourbon is whiskey, but NOT all whiskey is bourbon Click To Tweet

If you are a beginner to bourbon, then you want to ease into it (you may want to start with my post, Bourbon 101: Starting With the Basics). If you are a complete novice, then you don’t want to buy a bottle that would be more fit for a more experienced drinker. I’ve put together a list of three bourbons that would be perfect for people that are brand new to bourbon and don’t know where to start. Don’t be intimidated!

bourbon for beginners

Three Bourbons For Beginners:

I came up with my list and based it on this five criteria:

  • Price: I chose bourbons that are affordable, because I figured that if someone was wanting to get into bourbon, they wouldn’t want to spend $50 or more.
  • Availability: Even though over 45% of my readers are from Kentucky (the mecca of bourbon), not all my readers are. I wanted to choose bottles that would be relatively easy to find anywhere.
  • Taste: These bourbons cover the three main “styles” of bourbon being made in Kentucky. From a traditional low rye recipe such as Buffalo Trace, to a higher rye recipe like Woodford Reserve, all the way to a wheated bourbon, Maker’s Mark. What does this all mean? Rye is the traditional flavor grain used for making bourbon, known for a “spicy” yet smooth taste. Higher rye means more spice. A bourbon that is made with wheat, or “wheated”, is generally sweeter and milder.
  • Proof: I choose bourbons that are all 90 proof, instead of bourbons with a higher proof, which can be more potent. By keeping the proof the same, you can also taste more of the difference in the bourbon, rather than differences in alcohol content.
  • History: These three bourbons represent some of the oldest and/or most storied distilleries in Kentucky. Distilling began at the Woodford Reseve distillery in Versailles, Kentucky in 1780, and the distillery building was built in 1838. As of 2010, this makes Woodford Reserve the oldest of the nine bourbon distilleries in Kentucky that are currently in operation. However, the site hasn’t been continuously operational. Buffalo Trace claims the distillery is the oldest continuously-operating distillery in the United States. Maker’s Mark is an iconic and distinctive brand. You can easily distinguish it from the others, because of the red wax on the bottle.

tips for bourbon beginners

Tips for Tasting Your Bourbon:

  • Try this technique, The Kentucky Chew (in this post, I walk you step-by step through how to properly taste bourbon and what to look for when tasting). Let it be known that there is a difference between drinking bourbon and tasting bourbon. Drinking bourbon is how you prefer to drink it, whether it is on the rocks, neat, or in a mixed drink. Tasting bourbon is paying attention to the nuances and aromas without a mixer or anything to dull the flavors (You’ll be able to taste butterscotch, toffee, fruits, maple syrup, etc depending on the bourbon you taste AND how good you are at detecting the individual notes from the bourbon).
  • Pour a splash of bourbon in a glass, preferably a Glencairn class, which will allow you to detect the various scents, such as caramel or vanilla. The small base of the Glencairn glass allows you to get a good look at the appearance. Because of the design of the glass, it is easy to swirl the bourbon around, and the narrow neck allows the smell to gather under the edge and the smell of alcohol to vanish. But, don’t be worried if you don’t have a Glencairn glass, any glass will do just fine in a pinch!
  • Add water to the bourbon. Just a few drops of water can change its flavor and bring out several different notes of flavor.

If all else fails, try it in a cocktail…

  • Kentucky Mule
  • Old-Fashioned
  • Mint Julep
  • Manhattan
  • Boulevardier
  • Bourbon & Coke

… are all classic bourbon cocktails.


Are you a bourbon drinker? If so, what’s your favorite?

  • Taylor Reese August 8, 2017 at 9:15 am

    great information!!! thanks for sharing since I’m a wine girl and both bourbon and whisky stupid.


  • Summer @ Coffee With Summer August 8, 2017 at 9:32 am

    This was so educational! I must say, I am not currently a bourbon drinker, but the more you post about it, I feel I have to try it!

  • Corey Wheeland August 8, 2017 at 10:32 am

    I’m not a huge bourbon fan, but this is really interesting!

  • Leslie Soto August 8, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    I’m usually your white wine kinda girl but when I want a little more than white wine, I enjoy a bourbon. Marker’s Mark is really good when you add it to tea you’ve got a real winner!

  • Jenna Urben August 8, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    I love Mint Juleps! I want to explore more bourbon though

    • Whitney S. August 10, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      I’m actually not a fan of Mint Juleps, even though they are iconic here and the drink of the Derby!

  • Ayanna August 8, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Great info!! I’m not much of a drinker, but a friend of mine loves bourbon. So I’ll have to keep this in mind when it’s gift giving time.

  • Hava of Onlygirl4boyz August 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    So interesting! My hubby loves that stuff!

  • Nicole Leith August 8, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Bourbon was my first legal drink. I love that stuff! I’m finally starting to get my husband to drink it too. We like to keep a bottle of Breckenridge on hand for when we have guests. Apparently it’s on the more expensive side if you live outside of Colorado. I’ve been into Angel’s Envy lately.

    • Whitney S. August 10, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Hehe that’s awesome!! Usually, it’s the other way around. I haven’t heard of Breckenridge. Earlier this year, Angel’s Envy joined the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. They also opened up their distillery late last year.

  • Courtney CJ August 8, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    I love this! I really wouldn’t mind taking a trip to Kentucky as an adult to go on some tastings. I have been enjoying Knob Creek as of lately. Every time I dry to drink Maker’s I need to mix it.

  • Kaitlyn Fickle Killebrew August 8, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    My husband loves bourbon! I might have to try it sometime!

  • Heather Jordan August 8, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    This was very informative! I knew nothing about bourbon before reading this!

  • Raising World Children Ezine August 9, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Surprised to find such a detailed post about such a new topic. Really interesting. And what detail you have done it ! Kudos.

  • Leslie Morrison August 9, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Ahh, my love. Bourbon is my drink of choice and an old fashioned is simply amazing anytime! Great informational post. Thanks!

  • Nicole Green August 9, 2017 at 9:37 am

    I’m admittedly not a big bourbon drinker since it intimidates me, but I think I need to give it a go in a mixed drink! Love that you shared three bourbons that are relatively easy to find too.

  • Talisa - That New Girl August 9, 2017 at 10:24 am

    My grandpa was a bourbon fan, but like Nicole below, I’ve always been intimidated by it! I will give it a try in a cocktail though. Gonna check out a few of the recipes.

  • Victoria August 9, 2017 at 10:55 am

    interesting post! I’m not a bourbon girl but, I have tried makers mark and I’ve even heard of woodford reserve but I’ve never tried it. Maybe I can get my uncle to try the other one. He’s the only one I know who enjoys a good bourbon.

  • Cara Owens-Kindly Unspoken August 9, 2017 at 11:23 am

    I’m definitely a newbie to bourbon, so this is very helpful! Thanks for sharing your top picks!

  • Sam Temsah-Deniskin August 9, 2017 at 11:51 am

    All solid choices if you’re starting out! Nice list.

  • Samantha August 9, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Yes! I used to think the same thing about drinking scotch until my husband introduced me to it. I love it! Now I want to go out and find some of these amazing bourbons to try! Thank you!

  • Jazzmine Woodard August 9, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Great post! I recently attended a whiskey tasting where I learned about the differences and this is spot on.

  • Kristen @ TheSophisticatedGal August 9, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    This post has convinced me to give bourbon a try 🙂 I’ve never had it before!

  • Felicia @ The Starving Chef August 9, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    First time I had real bourbon was at the Kentucky Derby – and it was amazing!

    • Whitney S. August 10, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      Which one did you have?

  • Mistle August 9, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    I’ll admit I’ve steered away from drinking Bourbon. This was really helpful!! I may have to give it a try one day!

  • Danielle @ A Sprinkle of Joy August 10, 2017 at 6:35 am

    This is an awesome post. I’ll have a bourbon here and there, but now I want to try all the different kinds!

  • Kallie August 10, 2017 at 8:44 am

    I LOVE Bourbon! My stepmom is from Kentucky so it’s a must have. Loved your tips

    • Whitney S. August 10, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      That’s so awesome! Where in Kentucky is she from?

  • Stephanie Parrell August 14, 2017 at 6:40 am

    I have never tried bourbon before so it is a completely foreign concept to me. This list you provided will come in handy if ever I decide to take the plunge.

  • Cole Nemeth August 18, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Your shirt is so cute! I’ve never actually tried tasting any liquor, because I’m scared of the taste! I’m curious to try tasting bourbon now, though, because of this post!

  • K. Elizabeth @ YUMMommy September 9, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    I don’t drink bourbon often, but when I do it’s usually Maker’s Mark. Love that stuff!

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  • About Me

    About Me

    Hi, y'all!

    Hey y'all! My name is Whitney, and I'm the founder of Fabulous in Fayette. I've been living in Lexington since 2008. I'm in love with my city of Lexington and love all the amazing local businesses and restaurants. It's seriously one of the best places to live!

    Not to be confused with Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fabulous in Fayette celebrates the fabulous city of Lexington, the great state of Kentucky, and Southern Living. In case you are not from here, Fayette refers to the county where Lexington is located!

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