Bourbon sampling is much like wine tasting. To appreciate fine bourbon, sip it straight or with a little water and ice.
Admire the color: Hold your glass up to the light. Bourbon has a translucent, amber hue that has a flame-orange glint when the light hits it.
Analyze the aroma, or "nose": Bourbon has scents of caramel and vanilla because it is aged in charred oak barrels. "If you have a high-proof bourbon, purse your lips and get a mix of air -- sort of like a kiss -- so the spirits don't overpower the aroma and burn your nose," said Jerry Dalton, master distiller at Jim Beam.
Savor the taste over your palate: Does the flavor taste like nuts, fruit or vanilla? With practice, you should be able to distinguish the qualities of various brands.
Appreciate the finish: Some subtle flavors may sneak up on you at the end. Bourbon should have a satisfying, noble finish, says the Kentucky Distillers' Assn.