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?

About Me

About Me

Hi, y'all!

Hey y'all! My name is Whitney, and I'm the founder of Fabulous in Fayette. I grew up and lived in Appalachia for 22 years. In 2008, I left my life in Appalachia behind, and have been living in Lexington ever since. I'm a Proud Kentuckian and am in love with my city of Lexington. 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!

xoxo, Whitney

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