And as any Bourbon drinker worth her Pappy Van Winkle knows, your friend is not ready for that yet. It takes time and practice to build your palate to where you can appreciate the subtle nuances of a well-aged Bourbon or handle the power of a barrel-proof one. If you hand your young Bourbon padawan a glass of Stagg, they will choke, cough, and possibly be turned off of Bourbon forever.
For a drink that's as simple as Bourbon, there are a surprisingly large number of flavour variations on the shelf. It's almost counter-intuitive.
Almost all Bourbon begins with the same three or four ingredients: corn, barley, and rye or wheat. And yet, the flavours produced range from floral and fruity to spicy and dry with an entire library of notes in between. Most Bourbons can be classified in one of the typical flavour profiles - a good place for your friends to start their journey of finding the right one.
But some Bourbons are sweeter than others. Whether that is due to the time in the barrel, the mash bill or some other factor depends on the Bourbon. Bourbons characterized as sweet tend to lead with the flavours of vanilla, caramel, custard, butterscotch, marzipan, maple, honey or chocolate.
Good examples of some of the sweeter beginner Bourbons are Maker's Mark, Evan Williams, or J.W. Dant Bottled in Bond.
Hot and spicy Bourbons are certainly the first. Sometimes this heat comes from the alcohol content, and sometimes it comes from where and how the Bourbon was aged.
In either case, it can present itself like the capsaicin from a red pepper. And like a spicy pepper, that heat can be very enjoyable if surrounded by the right blend of flavours.
If you want to see if you enjoy hot and spicy Bourbons, good ones to try are 1792 Small Batch, Old Weller Antique, and Old Grand-Dad 114 proof.
Floral notes, like honeysuckle or rose petals, often accompany fruity or herbal notes. Well- crafted floral Bourbons present floral notes as just one part of a well-balanced whole.
A few floral Bourbons for the beginner to explore are Four Roses Small Batch, Old Forester 86 proof, and Woodford Reserve.
Baking Spice Bourbons
They can originate with the rye grain used in the cooking, the yeast used in the fermentation or the barrel used for the maturation. Or they could come from a combination of these.
Good beginner Bourbons that lead with baking spice flavours are Buffalo Trace, Ezra Brooks and Maker's Mark 46.
At 4 years a Bourbon is usually considered fully matured. That doesn't stop producers from leaving their product in the barrel a few years longer to get more of that barrel flavour into the final product, though.
Many drinkers like the notes that a bit more time in oak will impart to their Bourbon. Almond, walnut, cedar, pecan and yes, oak are all familiar oak-derived flavours. Wood-forward Bourbons can be tannic like black tea or rich with flavours of leather and tobacco. They can also be very expensive and hard to appreciate for the beginner.
If you are looking to see if you like wood forward Bourbons without breaking the bank, try Wild Turkey 101 proof, Elijah Craig Small Batch or Jim Beam Black.
These Bourbons have been more gently aged and haven't picked up as many of the oak characteristics.
As such you get more of the flavour from the corn, barley, rye or wheat used in their creation. Think notes like hot cereal or cornbread.
Good beginner Bourbons that showcase these grain flavours are Very Old Barton, Basil Hayden's, and Johnny Drum Private Reserve.
So, after all of that, where should we point our wannabe Bourbon-loving friends? The first step in knowing what you like is trying new things. Luckily, we know just the place to go...