The Essential Guide to Bourbon Tasting for the Holidays

As much as we love drinking bourbon 365-days a year, there’s something extra special about cozying up with your favorite dram during the holiday season. Bourbon is the perfect accompaniment for sitting by a crackling fire, trimming the tree, or baking up a batch or two of festive cookies.   

The holidays are also the ideal occasion for bringing people together with bourbon, and one of the best ways to do so is by hosting a holiday bourbon tasting. To make things even merrier, we’ve added a few tips and tricks to make your bourbon tasting shine as bright as your holiday spirit.  


No holiday gathering would be complete without a few festive cocktails and treats, so we’ve also included some inspiration that will help you add some extra cheer to your next ‘cheers.’  


Bourbon Tasting Basics 

Hosting a bourbon-tasting event is a fun and easy way to expand your palate, explore new styles of bourbon, and discover which bourbon your friends and family prefer (this information can be incredibly useful when it’s time to pick out gifts).  


If you’re new to bourbon tasting, don’t worry — you don’t need to be an expert to host a successful tasting. All you need to do is keep the following tips in mind:  


  • Select a Range of Bourbons: Bourbon tasting is about recognizing the differences between different bottles. That said, it’s important to choose from a range of styles. A fun way to really dig into the nuances is to select two bottles from the same producer to appreciate the time and care the distiller put into the flavors and aromas of each varietal. For example, we love comparing Yellowstone Select with Yellowstone Limited Edition 


  • Start with Lower Proof Bourbons: Higher-proof bourbons taste ‘hotter,’ meaning they can overwhelm your taste buds if you don’t warm up with a few lower-proof options first. Working your way up to the highest-proof bottle will allow your taste buds to adjust and ensure you don’t miss out on any of the flavors in the lower-proof options.  


  • Take Three Sips, Then Judge: Even lower-proof bourbons can taste ‘hot’ on the first sip, so it’s a good idea to take a couple more before you form an opinion. Be sure to sniff before each sip to appreciate the aroma, and ‘chew’ the bourbon in your mouth to help pick up on all the flavors.  


  • Cleanse Your Palate: Have water ready for you and your guests to cleanse your palates between each tasting. Doing so will prevent the flavors of each from becoming muddled and prime your taste buds to pick up on new tasting notes.  


  • Write Down Your Observations: No matter how good you think your memory is, writing down your observations is crucial. Not only will doing so allow you to look back on your findings the next time you’re at the liquor store, but it will also make your discussions more engaging.  


Once you’ve gone through the tasting, it’s time for some discussion. Having your guests compare and contrast opinions is a great way for everyone to learn more, gain new perspectives, and discover flavors and aromas they might not have noticed. Plus, who doesn’t love talking about bourbon?  


Focus on Festive Pairings  

An essential part of bourbon tasting is thinking about the flavors in each dram. However, it’s equally important to consider what other flavors will pair well with each pour. Luckily, the holiday spirit isn’t the only thing that goes well with bourbon. Many flavors typically associated with the holiday season also happen to complement the complex bourbon notes.  


Take a look at these festive flavor pairings you should keep in mind for your tasting party:  

  • Chocolate
  • Pecans 
  • Raisins
  • Eggnog
  • Pumpkin
  • Cinnamon
  • Maple syrup
  • Peppermint


Understanding how these flavors work with bourbon can help you select the perfect drinks, snacks, and treats to serve at your bourbon-tasting party. As you go through the tasting, you can ask your fellow participants to think about which bottles they think would pair best with the flavors above.  


Cocktails Make the Holidays Even Merrier 

Tasting and drinking bourbon is delicious, but it works just as well as the main ingredient in a holiday-themed cocktail. If you need some inspiration, try using Yellowstone in one of these festive cocktail recipes:  


Kentucky-Style Eggnog  

(serves two) 


2 large eggs 

1/3 cup granulated sugar 

1/3 cup heavy cream 

2/3 cup whole milk 

4 ounces Yellowstone Select Bourbon 

¾ teaspoons vanilla extract 

Fresh nutmeg (for garnishing) 



Whisk the eggs together in a mixing bowl until frothy. Slowly add the sugar and whisk until combined. Add the cream, milk, Yellowstone Bourbon, and vanilla extract, then whisk until combined. Serve over ice and garnish with grated nutmeg.  


Holiday Hot Chocolate  

(serves two) 


2 tablespoons water 

2 tablespoons maple syrup 

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 

pinch salt 

2 cups milk of any kind 

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

3 ounces Yellowstone Select Bourbon 



Stir together water, maple syrup, cocoa powder, salt, and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally and ensuring the milk does not come to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Split between two mugs and add 1 ½ ounce of Yellowstone to each.  


Holiday Eats Can be Boozy, Too 

No matter what type of holiday gathering you’re hosting, you’ll need a few festive dishes to nosh on — and bourbon tastings are no exception. The best part is you can incorporate bourbon into your dishes to make your gathering even more ‘spirited.’  Take a look at this bourbon-centric treat you can add to a variety of festive desserts:  


Yellowstone Bourbon Golden Caramel Sauce 


1 cup granulated sugar 

1/4 cup water 

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature 

1/4 cup butter, room temperature 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

2 tablespoons Yellowstone Select Bourbon 

1 teaspoon fine sea salt 



Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and stir to combine. Turn the burner on to medium heat, then allow the sugar to caramelize. DO NOT touch or stir the mixture until the sugar turns a deep amber color. Remove from heat and slowly pour in the heavy cream, whisking to combine. The mixture will start bubbling as soon as the cream touches the sugar, so be sure to pour it slowly and carefully. Add the butter and whisk until combined, then add the remaining ingredients and stir. Serve immediately or allow to cool and store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. Serve with ice cream, brownies, coffee, etc.  


Spread Cheer by Saying ‘Cheers’— with Yellowstone  

As you get ready to celebrate the season with a festive bourbon tasting, don’t forget to stock up on a few bottles of Yellowstone Select and Yellowstone Limited. They make great additions to any bourbon-tasting party and are also perfect for all your holiday cocktails and dishes. 


Pick up a few bottles near you, and prepare to spread some holiday cheer. And, of course, say ‘cheers’ with Yellowstone. 

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