In recent years, the bourbon industry has exploded, and it shows no signs of slowing down. New data from the IWSR even suggests that whiskey will soon overtake vodka in terms of volume consumption in the United States. As such, a multitude of bourbon distilleries have announced plans for expansion, including, but certainly not limited to, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, and Bardstown Bourbon Co..

Clearly, bourbon has cultivated a passionate fan base that has birthed the term bourbon tater. But it’s important to be cautious of those calling themselves experts without any credentials to back it up. As it turns out, many devoted whiskey and bourbon connoisseurs have little knowledge beyond what they’ve read on distillery sites. We spoke with true bourbon expert Peggy Noe Stevens of Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates, who has an impressive career as a master bourbon taster, a member of Kentucky’s Bourbon Hall of Fame, and founder of Bourbon Women to learn more.

The origins of the term bourbon tater, or whiskey tater on a broader level, are unknown, but the phrase is often used in reference to novice drinkers who pretend to be experts in the field. According to the term’s definition on Urban Dictionary, it can also be used to describe “those who describe whiskey as their hobby and the silly things they do in pursuit of bottles of whiskey; mostly driven by fear of missing out, lack of knowledge, or the need to post ‘impressive’ unopened bottles on social media.” While the phrase is in circulation, especially among bartenders and those on Reddit, Stevens truly believes bourbon, and bourbon education, is for everyone.

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Her overall goal when educating others on bourbon is to make it easy, approachable, and not so highbrow that people are worried about how to drink or taste it correctly. In fact, the goal behind writing her book, “Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon,” seeks to inspire people to conduct bourbon tastings in their own homes to really hone in their skills and knowledge surrounding the bourbon world.

For those truly attempting to reach expert status and not just claim it, Stevens suggests that, when tasting bourbon, one should slow down and rely on their food memory. “We all know what a banana tastes like, right? We all know what cinnamon tastes like,” she says. “For some reason, when you put people in front of a glass of bourbon, especially when they’re with an expert like me, when I ask them, ‘What do you get from this pour?’ they freeze. They forget to hone in on their food memories, but usually, it’s what strikes them first.”

To push through this brain freeze, she suggests that people take a mental walk to their spice rack, really focus on the nose of the spice present in the bourbon, and then try to nail it down from there. “Do you get something very light, like a white pepper?” she says. “Or are you getting something really heavy like a clove? From there, they can really start to zero in to determine not only the spice present, but the intensity of the spice.”

Stevens additionally explains that once the spice is determined, it can be easier to distinguish the different herbs or fruits present as well. “All of the sudden, when you start to put it in food terms, and have them focus on one category like fruits, spice, sweet, savory, herbaceous, then they can get their arms around it,” she says.

The good news is that getting good at bourbon tasting and becoming an expert takes lots of practice, so bourbon taters with a collection of bottles are in luck. While Stevens notes that there are a few exceptions for people with incredibly refined palates, becoming an expert requires slowing down and truly assessing what it is you’re drinking to not only dissect the flavors, but also to appreciate the spirit.

As a master taster and native of Kentucky, Stevens suggests all Kentucky bourbon for those interested in refining their taste buds and achieving true expert status.