How To Order Bourbon At The Bar Like A Total Pro

Nothing has the potential to make you feel like two kids in a trench coat like ordering straight bourbon from a bar. As far as drinks go, it's about the most adult beverage a person can order. It might remind you of what your grandfather drank while he regaled you with old war stories or make you feel joined in spirit with the late, great Anthony Bourdain, who had a famous penchant for Pappy Van Winkle.

Bourbon, the ultimate American spirit, is a type of whiskey made from a primarily corn-based mash, and it is mainly produced in Kentucky, in or near its namesake of Bourbon County. Its special production methods result in a rich drink with notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak. But while bourbon-based cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Bourbon Smash are slid across thousands of bars dozens of times a day, it's not as common for someone to simply order a glass of bourbon. After all, it's not like you're Don Draper pouring 10 AM celebration toasts from the cabinet of crystal decanters in your office bar. 

While you might have the savoir-faire to order a whiskey ginger without any panic of imiposter syndrome, we want you to have the same confidence to order bourbon correctly. The only trick is you have to really know what you want.

Name the brand

When ordering bourbon at a bar, the first question you should expect to hear is, "Which one?" So if you want bourbon, make sure you actually know which bourbon you want. There are hundreds of bourbon brands, and each distiller makes varying styles and vintages. Asking for bourbon without giving a brand name will mark you as an obvious amateur. Common brands found at most bars include Wild Turkey, Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, Jim Beam, and Evan Williams. But if you're not sure what you want, you can always ask for a recommendation.

"Ask the bartender to suggest a small-batch, low-proof bourbon as an introduction, such as Basil Hayden or Four Roses," suggested Eric Gregory, the President of the Kentucky Distillers' Association, in an interview with TODAY. Blanton's or Knob Creek make for a good step up from this once you're ready for a higher-proof, single-barrel bourbon.

Once you've settled on your bourbon, be prepared to mention whether you want it "neat" (without ice) or "on the rocks" (with ice). The correct way to say this is to first say the brand, then how you'd like it served. For example: "I'll have Bulleit bourbon, on the rocks." This will generally leave you with a standard 1.5 ounce pour of bourbon, unless your bartender is feeling generous. If you'd like to make it a double (or 3-ounce pour), just slip that info in after the brand: "Bulleit, double, on the rocks."