Evolution of a Bourbon Drinker

Bourbon — As You Like It

Last month in Whisky Advocate Jonny McCormick wrote an article which was his whisky adaption of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. If you haven’t read McCormick’s “Whisky – As You Like it” it’s well worth the time. Below is a quote from McCormick’s article.

This is a celebration of the whisky life. William Shakespeare’s monologue from As You Like It compares the journey of life with a play acted out upon the stage. We recognize that each of us pass through different, ever-changing phases in our relationship with whisky. Through the highs and lows of life, it is a fantastic journey to embark on. Here we explore the behaviors, motivations, and emotions at every stage.

I decided to take this a step further and depict the life and evolution of a bourbon drinker.

Evolution of a Bourbon Drinker

evolution of bourbon drinker

Scrounging – This is the genesis of bourbon, or whiskey, drinking because you don’t yet know that there’s a difference between the two. You’re drinking a lot of Evan Williams Green Label and Jack Daniels. You probably mixed one part bourbon with 3 parts coke in a red solo cup. You order “Irish Whiskey” as a drink. Not Jameson or Bushmills, just Irish Whiskey.

Fake Fancy – You’re still mixing with a handful of ice and half a can of coke but now you’re a little more big time and grab a bottle of Maker’s Mark and Crown Royal (yes, Crown is Canadian whiskey but you don’t know that yet) whenever you walk in to your neighborhood liquor store. In your mind you’ve reached the pinnacle and bourbon doesn’t get any better than this, right? This can be one of the most important phases in a bourbon drinker’s life. If you’re not careful you can get stuck eternally stuck in this phase and you’ll be drinking Maker’s and coke and taking fireball shots straight from the bottle the rest of your adult life. No one deserves this.

Rocks Era – You’ve figured out that bourbon has plenty of flavors of its own and can be served without a mixer. The proof still poses a problem so you throw a few cubes of ice to make it more manageable. This is a big transition in the evolution of a bourbon drinker once it becomes more about the bourbon and not the effects of alcohol. You build your palate in this phase and probably note the subtle notes of vanilla and toffee. Towards the end of this period you begin to make better bourbon decisions as well.

The Come Up – You start to read reviews before buying. You probably grab a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch and Elijah Craig if you’re smart. You may even jot some tasting notes down. You even started following all of the major distilleries on Twitter. Things are starting to look up.

Weaning – Ice begins to water down the bourbon too much so you try just adding a little bit of water to your glass. At first the taste is too strong but after a few days you’ve become accustomed and even begin to enjoy that burn.

It’s All Neat – You’re drinking your bourbon neat and loving it. You feel a little bit of pride when you order your bourbon at the bar and have to clarify to the bartender that you want it neat. You write your tasting notes on all of the new bourbons your try and compare them with others.

New Connoisseur – Now that you’re a bourbon pro you join every bourbon group on Facebook, bourbon forum and throw disapproving looks towards the guy at the bar ordering a Jack and Coke.  You finally figure out what SW, OFBB, ECBP and FRSmBLE stand for. You recently purchased your first bottle of Pappy Van Winkle and made it the centerpiece of your dining room. The biggest revelation of this stage in your bourbon evolution is barrel programs. For almost the same price as Four Roses single barrel you can purchase a barrel proof Four Roses single barrel that your local store selected. Private barrelings (especially, Four Roses and Smooth Ambler) are manna from the Bourbon gods.

The Obsession – The fall hunt becomes a true test of will and determination as you scour the city looking for lotteries to enter and try to figure out shipping patterns of distributors. The guest bedroom at your house has been converted to a bourbon bunker and the favorites on your phone consist of your spouse, mom, 2 bourbon buddies and 5 liquor stores. While you recognize this as an addiction you note that the root of the addiction is the “hunt” not the alcohol and that makes you feel better.

Bourbon Life Beyond the Hype – This is the stage when a drinker begins to realize that not every special release or limited edition is worth the price. You skip on ultra-aged and fancy backstories. You’ve learned to embrace bottles like Four Roses small batch and Buffalo Trace for their excellent taste as well as their price and availability. The hunting is not as hard because if you get skunked you’re still sipping on bottles 2011 George T. Stagg that you bought off of the shelf in 2011. You may even decide to trade one of the Staggs for basically any new release you choose.

True Bourbonr – This is the sweet spot for bourbon drinkers. You contribute useful information to bourbon forums and to new comers you talk with at the bar. You trade bottles with other bourbonr’s and have expanded your palate by tasting lots of different bourbons. You can pick out a wheated bourbon in a blind tasting lineup. There are bourbons in you cabinet from several years of fall releases.

OG – The OG’s of bourbon are guys that purchased Pappy Van Winkle that was sitting on a shelf at retail. You saw certain fall releases go to clearance rack in liquor stores. When there’s a debate of whether or not a Weller Antique or Old Fitzgerald is Stitzel-Weller you comment with certainty and the drop the mic and walk away.

 Where do you fit in the bourbon evolution?


    Wonderful piece, but unfortunately doesn’t include the evolutionary branch for people north of the border (bourbonr Canadiensis?), where rarities and antique collections are mere folklore and only exist in our imaginations.

    Thanks for weighing in for Canada, particularly love the taxonomical category of bourbon Candiensis. It’s tortuous reading about all those rare bourbons you’ll never find here, but every trip to the states, walking into a liquor store is like a, pun intended, spiritual experience.

    lol Ron. I know the feeling. I’ve been there wondering why ANYBODY would pay $100 for bourbon when I could get the three amigos (Jack, Jim, Evan) at such a wonderful price.

    Then that day came that turned it all around. For me it was Basil Hayden that made me unable to look back and even look at my old three amigos. Now whenever I see someone pour coke in bourbon… I shun them… I hiss at them… and I inform them, “We can no longer be friends”. LOL

    So spot on. I relate to just about everyone of those. Unfortunately, I think I jumped from new connoisseur to life beyond the hype as it is impossible to track down the special releases and I don’t see them being worth the after market price. Nice read!

    Oh No!, I did this in the wrong order. I have been lucky enough to locate a source (not in Massachusetts where I live) to have a bottle of 15 year PVW two out of the last three years. I have only recently put 2 and 2 together (after enjoying BT also); that I am a “Wheater”.

    I have to admit you absolutely nailed it. I fall into the new connoisseur. I’m not interested in the hunt for pappy just give some Weller and I’m happy!

    I’m at the Obsession stage. . . .Had my first tour at FR in Febuary and haven’t looked back. I’ve taken over the ‘china’ cabinet in the DR and feature my latest treasures. . . .all open and drinking. On the hunt for sure but not paying secondary market prices. . . looking forward to my first BTAC lottery in a couple weeks. Thanks for the post and keep up the bourbon work. Technically, according to science, bourbon is a solution. just sayin. . . .

    Thought I was quite a Bourbon aficionado. Enjoyed a Peated Scotch now and then for a change of pace. Always straight or with a few drops of water. But my dental hygienist told me my gums appeared as if I had been using mouthwash with alcohol. Yes, that must be it…I lied.

    I started diluting my whiskey with ice. And my checkups seemed better. But even barrel strength Scotch did not seem to hold up well. And so far I’ve only found a few Bourbons that are most enjoyable with “double-ice”: Bookers, JB Single Barrel, and Knob Creek Barrel Strength.

    Am always on the look out for more likely suspects of course!

    Agree with Drew. I’m at BLBH, but without a bottle of Pappy and having skipped most of the Obsession stage (tho I do talk to a few stores on “occasion”). I’m not going to stress over the unattainable when there are so many other wonder bottles to explore! Tho I would love a bottle of George T Stagg. Current faves are Angel’s Envy and Breaking & Entering … and very sad about the recent B&E news 🙁

    It doesn’t matter how you like your bourbon, as long as you are enjoying it. Neat, on the rocks, some water, even drowned in Coke. It don’t matter. Enjoy it!

    Thanks for the story. I was introduced to good bourbon early in my evolution and now I’m beyond the hype – I prefer mine neat and have largely given up on the hunt. My BTAC bunker consists of 1/2 a GTS, 2 ER17, and 1 Handy. I like the post hunt attitude I found on http://www.straightbourbon.com about bourbon zen, have found I prefer high or full rye and am content to know that Old Scout and Crown Black (yes I meant that) are readily available. BTAC is now for very special occasions with good friends.

    Straightbourbon is a great resource and probably how a lot of us got our start. Also, I haven’t had Crown Black or at least in a long time. May have to grab a bottle

    I was stuck on stage 1 for a long time, and stage 2 on “special” occasions :). Then a switch flipped and went through the next few stages very quickly. On the verge of joining the life beyond the hype, just not quite there yet. I say I am done looking for the next release, but as soon as I find out about it, boom, I am back in the mix.

    True and funny, great article. Although I must admit my daily go to bourbon is Evan Williams black label or their 1783, light on the ice, heavy on the bourbon, with a splash of ginger ale.

    Awesome blog. Now I know where I stand. The hunt is tough in arizona but that makes it all the better when I find something exciting! Thanks!

    Good article. I’ve been into it about 2 months but I somehow managed to skip straight to “It’s all neat”. First bottle of bourbon I purchased and drank was Eagle Rare 10. Have a small collection in my cabinet started but it’s all easy to find stuff. Working on expanding it out and I see myself headed down the stages on your list.

    I’m wondering does every budding Bourbon Afficinado start with a bit of Jack Daniels. You know I graduated from Jack Daniels Black Label a quite a few years ago, start loving the Jack Daniels Single Barrel, and then began to develop a Palate. I’m always looking for something that goes with a good cigar. Right now I’m going back and forth from Jefferson Reserve to Woodford Reserve to Makers 46. I’m got some other labels in mind, but I have to tell yall that every once in a while I get a taste for a glass of Jack Daniels and a beer or two, and of course a Cigat

    But you left out the ‘but there is a better cottage cheese with more natural curds’ bourbon stalker phase. Too funny. I think I recently graduated to Beyond The Hype stage with $175 Blade And Bow and $125 Wild Turkey Anniversary. I’d rather drink my 5 Staggs and enjoying vatting experiments with Stagg Jr. (1/3 SJ and 2/3 EWSB.)

    Had an uncle, a reformed alcoholic. Many years ago remember him saying his favorite and hard to beat was Four Roses. I drink mostly beer but used to have some enjoy some Jack.
    Then tried; Makers Mark, Woodruff Reserve, Bookers. Wild Turkey and Knob Creek all good. This winter I picked a bottle of Four Roses single barrel and now I know what my uncle was talking about and why he got hooked on the stuff. Four Roses single barrel is very, very Good!

    Helllllooooo, this perfectly describes me! I’m a middle-aged woman from a suburb of Boston, MA. I’ve discovered bourbon after dabbling with various scotch and I love it! Yes, I like it neat with a cube or two. I love tasting all the delish flavors that swirl on my palate, especially the notes of licorice from a bottle of 1792. I find myself preoccupied with tasting yet another brand. Yay for Kentucky!!

    Just came across this attachment to the two year anniversary blog.
    I’m an old bourbon guy that won’t chase those rare bottles, just can’t justify the hype when my go to’s are so very good.
    Weller 12, Russell’s reserve, Four Rose’s Small Batch and Single barrel!
    I have graduated to following Elmer T Lee’s way of drinking. I like mine at about 60 proof, with good spring water, always brings out the flavors I crave and love. I don’t need the strong kick at my age, just a good solid drink on the porch after a long day.
    Perhaps a new category, “old guy /gal bourbon lovers”. I’ll keep drinking my bourbon as long as the good lord grants me time, hopefully decades to come!

    I have been a fan of bourbon sience early adulthood. I could never stand the smell or taste of beer. Beer is regulated to the unwashed, IMO…. Life Beyond the Hype, is how I would rate myself. Although I do have a couple of liquor stores that know me by my first name and do hold special bottles back for me…..drink what you like and enjoy what you drink !!!!

    While I arrived at my place in the bourbon world by taking a slightly different course than the article suggests, it certainly does describe the evolution properly.

    I remember the good old days when Pappy 10 yr was in the short bottles and went at 107 proof and no one knew what the heck BTAC meant. (And BTAC was three, then four in the collection, and was somewhat available!).

    I drink bourbon neat to get educated, but still like it temperature cooled with a ice ball. (Slow down the melt as much as possible). And there is nothing like the Mint Julep recipe I found years ago to have it sweet on Derby Day. Not very “traditional” for the bottom of the list in knowledge, but I am constantly continuing my growth too.

    And the best part of the good old days was some of the distilleries such at BT were offering private barrels to the liquor stores. Nothing like getting Weller, Eagle Rare, Blanton’s and Elmer in special handpicked single barrel releases secured by the store’s commitment for the best whiskeys. Weller like that was exactly like Pappy Van Winkle Lot B. I am still in crisis mode as my inventory on those is REALLY dwindling to the last bottles. Thank God for Four Roses starting to do this…

    But many good things are happening today to help. Bourbon is getting better and the technology to improve it is making some interesting things happen. The rush to meet demand is the biggest hurdle for the distilleries as the crowd has grown significantly.

    The one thing this list does not mention and I think it is at the bottom of the list as a final accomplishment. That is recognizing your bourbon problem. I don’t have a drinking problem, but I do have a bourbon problem. One knows if they have a bourbon problem if they keep more than three bottles in at least three other locations besides their own home.

    I keep some at my parent’s house, my in-law’s house, and my brother-in-law’s house. I also have a stash at a friend of mine’s home across town and at his mountain home. And even a neighbor across the street so I don’t have to walk across the street to pour the very good stuff. Probably almost 50 bottles in all. Mostly celebration whiskeys… and lots of special events bourbons (eggnog, mint juleps, etc.)

    So, yes, my name is Steve and I have a bourbon problem!

    Good article!

    I consider myself an OG. I bought my Pappy 23 when it was just sitting on a shelf for $75. This was before Wine Spectator rated it and made it almost impossible to find and more expensive than I am willing to pay. I bought three of them and three Old Rip 12 for $25 a piece. I drink my bourbon neat but I have come full circle. On a hot day I will still have an old fashion cocktail sometimes. I don’t feel guilty or ashamed. It’s refreshing and miles ahead of a Maker’s and Coke!
    on August 26, 2015 Reply

    That is terrific, and hilarious. I certainly did the Beam and Jack first, but was partial to Wild Turkey before moving on to Crown. My brother and I used to argue, I did Crown and Coke and he would do Crown and 7, explaining the drink looked more refined — as if the color was important!

    My daily today is typically 4 Roses with a 1792, Blantons, Booker or EH for special occasions. No need to hunt as here in MO the liquor laws are great and stores are stocked.

    Thanks for the story, enjoyed it!!

    I’ve been a scotch connoisseur since I was 18 (legal drinking age in Australia). Only recently got into bourbon one year ago and fall into the ‘it’s all neat’ category. I started with woodfords reserve, I’ve had makers mark, buffalo trace, blantons, and wild turkey. WD is my favorite and WD 101 is my benchmark for all bourbon going forward. I like em a little spicy, and to have some freaking balls. Still love the scotch as I picked up a bottle of GlenDronach 18yo today for 180 AUD.

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