• Mark Still

Bourbon's evolution in a glass

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Whiskey evolves from first sip to last. Controlling your environment helps you notice it.




For a liquid of such simple ingredients, the creation of whiskey is difficult to do well and subject to endless variables along the path from grain to bottle. Even the same distillate emerges from different barrels carrying wildly varied flavors and characteristics. It’s fascinating really. It should be no surprise that the evolution doesn't stop once the spirit is dumped from the barrel. A distilled spirit, unlike wine, does not continue to develop once in the bottle. All of the maturation of whiskey happens in the cask and, once bottled, it has a nearly indefinite shelf life baring a poorly sealed cork or cap. Once opened, however, oxygen and evaporation most certainly play a role in the flavor experience of a whiskey. In my experience, it is uncommon for my opinion of a whiskey on the first sip upon opening to be the same as the last sip in the bottle. It takes some time for the liquid to settle into life as an open bottle and it takes time for me to get used to what it has to offer.


All of the maturation of whiskey happens in the cask and, once bottled, it has a nearly indefinite shelf life baring a poorly sealed cork or cap.

I also think we underestimate the impact of our environment when tasting. My favorite place to drink is at home partly because it is familiar and I know I’ve accounted for most of the environmental factors that might affect my interaction with whiskey. In a restaurant or bar, there are unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells that can color my opinion of what I’m smelling and tasting in the glass. The same can be said of the food eaten hours before tasting as well as my own health and attitude. So, in addition to all the ways that the whiskey itself might evolve during and after production, we as drinkers don’t receive inputs the same way day after day or even moment to moment. It may sound like I take all this whiskey drinking too seriously but I really don’t. I enjoy a drink with friends at a bar and I’m really never just sitting and sipping solely to evaluate or judge a whiskey. You’ll never get pretentious tasting notes from me. I just want us to give the whiskey a chance. It isn’t practical to expect every bottle you buy to be amazing and it’s common to taste something after dinner at a restaurant that you love in that moment only to be disappointed when you open a bottle of the same whiskey at home. When that happens, give it some time, revisit it after a month, you won’t see it the same way and often, that’ll mean you like it more.

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