Disclaimer: The opinions in my posts are my thoughts and not for everyone. I can only identify what is right for me. You may have very different thoughts. I will enjoy reading replies of dissent or agreement.
I like my bourbon straight. Master distillery have very discriminating tastes and bottle their products in strengths that they believe will best present the drink to the consumer. I usually agree. My evening routine, a Glencairn glass with two fingers of good bourbon while sitting with my wife doesn’t usually involve mixers. I buy good bourbon and I want to taste it.
I do have a few exceptions to my straight up routine. When friends are up who are new to bourbon I like to have them take a sip then add a few drops of filtered water to the glass for them to see how the nose and taste can evolve. The addition of water can drive different odors and flavors to the front. A few friends ask for their bourbon on the rocks. I shudder a bit and ask if they are sure that they don’t want to try it straight or with a little water. If they insist on rocks I smile and accommodate. I try not to judge because I strongly believe that the best way to enjoy bourbon is the way that it is best for each individual.
Now for mixers and bourbon. A dear friend and I were working out of town several years ago so I picked up a very good single barrel bourbon to share with my friend. As we settled in for the evening I proudly took the bottle from my bag and poured us each a drink. I nearly passed out then he dumped the expensive and wonderful bourbon into his diet cola! I guess he saw the look of shock on my face and said that he just couldn’t take the roughness of bourbon. When I asked him which bourbon he has had the names he gave me were all bottom shelf offerings. Now this fellow is one of the most brilliant people I know. He is a renowned scientist in his field and has traveled all over the world but he had never tasted a good bourbon. I made a deal with him. He had to take one taste of my bourbon straight, no water, no ice, no diet cola. If he didn’t like it I would promise to never give him “a look” for mixing his bourbon. Of course, he loved the bourbon and always offers a glass of it when I come to his house. One funny note is that he continues to buy that same bourbon that I shared with him that evening. I have tried to convince him that there are many excellent bourbons available but he tells me that he likes that one and that there is no need to look further.
Not all of my attempts to convert friends to good bourbon have been successful. Some friends still prefer their bourbon with a mixer. Since I love these friends and would never alienate them, I will bite my tongue and make a mixed drink. That being said, I will not make the drink with my better bourbons. I keep a 1.5 liter bottle of a decent middle shelf bourbon on hand to make drinks for my pals who want to mix. A have to confess that a 50-50 mix of Kentucky bourbon and Kentucky ginger ale is pretty darn good. Of course, I make some pretty special mint juleps on the first Saturday in May and I use a better middle shelf bourbon for these drinks. I justify my love of juleps because there is little, other than the mint, to detract from the complex bourbon flavors.
On the rare occasions when we make mixed drinks I usually use a clear spirit. Since the taste of the spirit is so covered up, why us good bourbon when a flavorless vodka is certainly adequate to put in some fruity concoction. I keep rum on hand to enjoy a mojito (my wife’s drink of choice) on a summer day. We will make tequila margaritas when we have friends over for grilled fish tacos.
I believe that there are no wrong ways for you to enjoy your bourbon, I can only tell you what is right for me.