The proof is in the glass, that's true of any spirit, but Bourbon shines best when it's in the glass by itself. While Bourbon is not easily confused with Scotch, its taste is somewhat elusive until sampled side-by-side with rye or barley whiskies.
A lot of blends and Canadian whiskies get poured into the glass when one requests a Bourbon and soda in many parts of our country because Bourbon and whiskey are often interchangeable terms. While blends may be fine for mixed drinks, a Bourbon 'neat' calls for the real thing, and only a newcomer will confuse a blend with a straight Bourbon.
Unlike Scotch, which is often aged for many years, most Bourbons are relatively young and don't require water to release their aromas and tastes. With the advent of 'barrel-strength' Bourbons which may be 120 proof or more, water becomes almost essential and the ubiquitous 'Bourbon and branch' will probably never fade from the scene.
Generally described, Bourbon is soft, if not sweet and that comes from the corn. A maltiness may peek through, showing that the whiskey was made with some barley added, but, as I stated earlier, the defining taste of Bourbon comes from the vanilla, caramel, and new oak aromas which are gained in the aging process.
Bourbons also have a deliciously creamy texture and notes of pecans, citrus, maple syrup, and raisins on the palate. Those Bourbons which have been aged for more than ten years often have a definite 'woodiness' about them.
Baker's 107 - Yellowish brown, with an aroma of dried flowers. Caramel and vanilla flavors with a clean finish. Drink straight.
Basil Hayden's - Brownish amber. Caramel and spice aromas. A woody flavor with a wake-up-slap finish. Drink straight.
Blanton's - Reddish amber. Dried citrus and spice aromas. Cloves and caramel flavors. Drink straight.
Booker's - Dark amber. Smoky charcoal aroma. very "hot" straight; sweet, with caramel and vanilla flavors when cut. Drink with water.
Elijah Craig - Darkish amber. Aromas of spice and wood. Caramel, nutty and vanilla flavors. Drink with water.
Hancock's Reserve - Reddish brown. Flavors of licorice and apricots uncut; oak and caramel tastes when cut. Drink cut.
Knob Creek - Deep reddish orange. A "hot" burnt-caramel aroma. A very woody flavor on the palate. Drink cut.
Maker's Mark - Light amber. Clove and wood aromas. Spicy flavor with a smooth finish. Drink straight or cut.
Rock Hill Farms - Honey amber. Aromas of fruit and honey, with caramel flavors and a clean finish. Drink straight.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed - Deep reddish amber. Flowers and sweet aromas. Candied spice and pepper flavors with a smooth caramel finish. Drink straight.
This is perhaps the best place to remind everyone that Jack Daniel's is from Tennessee and, while it's made like a Bourbon, it has its own unique traits and proudly carries the title of a Tennessee Whiskey. Like cheerleaders under the bleachers (we just had to say it one more time)!