What Makes a Great Bourbon Bar?

bourbon on rock by the fire roaring

Visiting your favorite bar or restaurant, it doesn’t take long to note how many options there are when it comes to finding your favorite alcoholic beverage. With beer, spirits, or wine, you’re sure to find the drink that suits your taste. But for many, there’s simply nothing else like a smooth bourbon. And if you’re looking for the best beer and bourbon in DC, you’ll have more than a few options of places to visit.

Here, we’re taking a closer look into the world of bourbon and determining what make a high-quality drink. We then take a step further to learn what makes a great bourbon bar. Hint: it’s more than just the bourbon.

How is Bourbon Different from Whiskey?



This is a question mostly anyone has had at some point if you frequent the bar scene. How is a bourbon different from a whiskey? In fact, a bourbon is a type of whiskey, falling under this broader category. So, when you go into a whiskey bar and ask for a bourbon, don’t worry, because a bourbon is a type of whiskey.

But there are specific qualities that distinguish a bourbon from all the other types of whiskeys. There are four primary qualities to ensure a bourbon is a bourbon: geographic location, grain makeup, aging process, and the proof.

Let’s take a closer look at each one:

bourbon whiskey being poured into a glass with ice

  • Geographic location: while most of us associated bourbon with Kentucky (for good reason, many of the top distillers are located there), bourbon can be distilled anywhere in the United States. Crafted anywhere outside of US borders, and it’s a whiskey.
  • Grain makeup: ingredients are essential when it comes to crafting a good bourbon (or any other drink for that matter). Bourbons must be made with at least 51 percent corn in their mash makeup. The remaining 49 percent can be a variation of any other grain, such as barley, wheat, or rye.
  • Aging process: the aging process is what gives bourbon its distinct taste. As such, it’s a critical part of the distillation process. For a whiskey to be considered a bourbon, it must be aged in a new, charred barrel made of American white oak. When it comes to bourbon, no other barrel will do.
  • Proof: for anyone who’s had a shot of bourbon, you know how it can pack a punch. This is because bourbon must have a proof of at least 80 proof, which means the drink is 40 percent alcohol by volume. Of course, some bourbons, such as Wild Turkey, have a proof even higher than this.

What Makes a Good Bourbon?

It’s truly a mystery what makes the perfect bourbon. Most experienced bartenders will tell you that there is no perfect bourbon out there, but rather, it comes down to your tastes and needs. Are you looking for a good cocktail bourbon? On the rocks? Drinking it neat? In the end, a good bourbon all comes down to your personal taste and preference.

Now, What Makes a Great Bourbon Bar?

bourbon in a glass with ice and ice cubes on the side wooden table

This one should be easy, right? It’s all about the bourbon. Good bourbon is the key to a good bourbon bar, of course, but there’s much more to the story. A good bourbon bar offers selection, competitive prices, pleasing aesthetics, a comfortable environment, and more. To create the best bourbon bar in town, it takes a lot more than simply slinging drinks. So, let’s take a look into some factors of what make a good bourbon bar—no matter where you are.

1.Selection: okay, bourbon is of course important to how good a bourbon bar will be. This only makes sense. We’ve all been in a situation where the only options for bourbon that night are Evan Williams and not much else. Even worse, they may not even offer a quality bourbon. The best bourbon bar will start from a wide selection of different bourbons suited to different tastes.

2.Pricing: Additionally, pricing is key here, too. If your bar only offers top-shelf bourbons, you may drive out a lot of customers who are looking for more mid-range prices for their drinks. Of course, a certain bourbon bar may be trying to cultivate a certain clientele by only offering certain prices, but the best bars will have something for everyone.

3.Knowledgeable bartenders: sometimes when you sit down at a bar, you know you want a bourbon, but you don’t know exactly which one. A friendly and experienced bartender should be able to help you through this process and perhaps even surprise you by introducing you to a new bourbon. In many ways, the best bartender is a huge bourbon fan themselves.

4.Inviting atmosphere: a good bourbon bar goes beyond the bourbon itself to craft an inviting, comfortable, and enjoying atmosphere. Leave those stuffy cocktail bars for vodka drinkers. Bourbon is meant to be sipped, enjoyed, and shared with friends. The atmosphere of the bar should reflect these qualities of a good bourbon.

5. Location: the number one rule of real estate holds true for making a good bourbon bar. A great location on a popular street or bustling downtown area helps to bring in more customers. If you’re located more on the outskirts, however, the bar can take advantage of this by having more space and seating for guests.

6.Seating options: as we’ve seen from 2020, outdoor dining options are absolutely critical for long-term success. Some of the best bourbon bars will have both indoor and outdoor seating options to suit their guests. And hey, why not throw in some patio or rooftop seating while you’re at it?

Conclusion – What Makes a Great Bourbon Bar?

It’s truly amazing how many drink options there are these days when you head down to your local watering hole. Whether you’re in the mood for a classy cocktail, craft beer, or something a little stronger, there’s bound to be the drink for you. But in many cases, it takes more than just a good bourbon to keep people coming back. A great bourbon bar needs to have variety, good prices, friendly staff, and an accessible location.