Should You Let Bourbon Breathe?

You’re holding a glass of rich, amber bourbon. You’ve heard of letting wine breathe, but what about bourbon? Is there any merit to this idea or is it just a whiskey myth?

Let’s dive into the science behind aerating bourbon, compare the taste differences, and guide you through the steps if you decide to give it a swirl. But remember, there might be some drawbacks.

Ready to explore this bourbon conundrum? Let’s pour ourselves a dram and delve in.

Understanding the Concept of Letting Bourbon Breathe

Let’s dive into understanding what it means to let bourbon breathe.

Now, you might be thinking, It’s a drink, not a living thing.’ But here’s the thing; when you’re dealing with bourbon, it’s not just about drinking, it’s about tasting.

And to get the full flavor, you’ve got to let your bourbon breathe. It’s similar to how wine lovers aerate their wine. By letting your bourbon sit for a few minutes after pouring, you’re allowing oxygen to mingle with it.

This process can soften the taste, open up more complex flavors, and even reduce the sting of the alcohol. It’s not a must-do, but it’s an easy way to potentially enhance your bourbon experience.

The Science Behind Aerating Bourbon

Understanding the science behind aerating your favorite whiskey can really enhance your drinking experience. When you let your bourbon breathe, you’re allowing oxygen to mingle with the liquid. This process, known as oxidation, alters the chemical makeup of the bourbon. It’s not just about letting air in; it’s about what the air does once it’s there.

Oxidation can soften the harsh tannins in your bourbon, making it smoother and more palatable. In addition, it allows the more volatile compounds to evaporate, reducing the ‘burn’ you might feel while drinking.

Comparing Tastes: Breathed Vs. Unbreathed Bourbon

Now, it’s time to compare the taste of your whiskey before and after aeration to truly appreciate the difference it makes.

Pour two shots of your favorite bourbon. Let one breathe for about 15 minutes while leaving the other untouched.

First, take a sip from the untouched shot. Notice the initial intensity of flavors, the burn of alcohol, the underlying notes that you’re familiar with.

Now, sip from the aerated bourbon. It’s softer, isn’t it? The harsh alcohol taste has mellowed, allowing the sweeter, more complex flavors to shine. There’s a noticeable depth in the taste that wasn’t there before.

The difference is subtle yet significant. Aeration isn’t just a fancy word, it’s a game-changer in your whiskey tasting experience.

Detailed Steps on How to Let Your Bourbon Breathe

To allow your favorite whiskey to aerate properly, there’s a simple and straightforward process you’ll need to follow.

First, pour your bourbon into a glass, ensuring it’s only about a third full. This gives the liquid enough room to breathe.

Then, let it sit for about 15 to 30 minutes. Use this time to take in the aroma; it’ll likely change as your bourbon breathes.

Next, give it a gentle swirl. This accelerates the aeration process and opens up the bourbon’s flavors.

Finally, take a small sip. Notice the difference in taste compared to when it was first poured. You might find it’s smoother and the flavors more pronounced.

Potential Drawbacks of Letting Bourbon Breathe

Despite the benefits, it’s not always the best idea to let your whiskey aerate, as there can be some potential drawbacks.

You see, when you let your bourbon breathe, it can lose some of its character. Flavor notes can diminish, reducing the overall complexity of the drink. The more delicate bourbon expressions may even evaporate, leaving you with a less satisfying sip.

Additionally, if you leave it too long, the alcohol could start to evaporate, significantly altering the taste and strength of your drink. It’s a delicate balance you’ve got to strike.


In conclusion, letting your bourbon breathe can enhance its unique flavors and aromas. However, it’s not without its potential drawbacks. It’s all about personal preference.

So, go ahead, give it a try. Decant your bourbon, let it breathe, and see if it makes a difference for you. Remember, the best way to enjoy your bourbon is exactly how you like it.