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Organizing Home Whisky Tastings

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@bourbondrinker
bourbondrinker started a discussion

Dear frends, I would like some feedback on organizing home whisky tasting sessions for about 3-5 people. I'm sure there are quite a few of you out there that have done this before- right? Thanks in advance...

9 years ago

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@sengjc
sengjc replied

Make sure you have plenty of glasses on hand, a pipette for dropping water (if you are into that) and some nibbles like cheese & crackers. Have a glass of water for each guest too.

I would refrain from having more than 5 bottles of whisky on tasting, preferably 3. Depending on what you are planning to showcase, you should always start with the lightest bodied or most aged ones first when the palate is fresh and can pick up subtle notes and complexity. I would leave the heavily sherried and peaty ones to the last.

9 years ago 3Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

@bourbondrinker, home whisky tastings are one of the great joys of life!

First, as with all public speaking, know your audience. Most people we have over for tastings will try anything we recommend, but there are some who are skittish and sensitive about trying the high alcohol content or high flavour content whisk(e)ys. If you have a large repertoire of whisky to draw upon and are flexible, you can adjust as needed, day of. If you are working from just a few bottles, and they are high abv and/or huge with the intense flavours, you might want to ask in advance about what your guests are willing to try.

I suggest having someone take the lead, so that the group stays together and the tasting does not become a free-for-all. That person would introduce each whisky in turn, and keep track of the pacing of the group.

If the members of the group are new to whisky or to each other, I usually ask each person to share with the group her/his whisk(e)y experience, so that you all know where you are coming from with respect to whisky. That information also makes it easier to choose the specific whiskies and their order for the tasting. Asking to know pre-existing taste preferences of the members of the group is highly useful to choosing whiskies which the tasters are likely to enjoy.

Have plenty of good quality tasting glassware and plenty of good quality water on hand. Encourage your guests to keep hydrated during tasting.

Food is always a good idea, particularly if the tasting is of multiple whisk(e)ys, and/or will go on for a long period of time. A lot has been written on this subject previously on Connosr, and that material is quite useful. Certainly the food is better avoiding the highly spicy and any other flavours which might make the whiskies difficult to taste. Fruits work well, e.g. grapes and cut apples; nuts are good; bread, cracker, or biscuit products are helpful; cheeses are good to have on hand; sliced meats work well too.

Take your time during the tasting, and find out in advance how much time your guests are available. Whisky tasting should not be rushed, and a good tasting session will often last a lot longer than whisky novices expect. Communicate about that with your guests and plan realistically in advance.

The typical plan of lighter flavoured whiskies to heavier works well for most people most of the time. Sure you CAN succeed in tasting a bourbon after the Ardbeg Uigeadail, but for most people that is not the more desirable path to take.

Adjust to the preferences of your guests during the event.

Have Fun!!!

9 years ago 6Who liked this?

@Pandemonium
Pandemonium replied

As already said above, it all depends on their knowledge of single malt whisky and their ability to hold their liquor. Whisky tasting is not the same as having a couple of beers with friends, it requires a bit of discipline of the participants to only nip from their whisky and take it slow, so they can enjoy each and every whisky that they are offered. So you'll need to keep order and keep everyone in line without making an ass of yourself by being too bossy.

It would be interesting for a group of friends to each bring their own whisky, but you'll need to make some solid agreements on the price range of bottles. A disparity in price level can lead to certain irritation between the participants.For example someone brings an Ardmore classic, while someone else picked a well-aged bottle of Rosebank.

PS: don't bring out your best whisky glasses, accidents do happen, take some slender wineglasses if you don't have enough glencairn glasses around

9 years ago 2Who liked this?

@bourbondrinker

Thank you all for your advice. I'll put it all together and give it a try!!

9 years ago 0

Would be interested to know how you got on @bourbondrinker.

I attend and host regular tastings for my village Whisky group (usually around 4-6 of us). We take a light-hearted and consistent approach. There are no great speeches or lessons. Just a few words about the whisky and on we go.

Typically we taste 12-16 whiskies a session and each session is loosely themed. Each person attending scores each whisky out of 10 and the scores are recorded over the years on a spreadsheet (always interesting reading) and retastes are not uncommon.

Generally we go for a cheese board with some oat cakes and have substantial quantities of water on offer. Make sure you have plenty of glasses. 2 each as a minimum but I recommend much more than that. A bit of high cocoa dark chocolate (70% or more) is good for cleansing the mouth.

Above all, just enjoy it. These are your friends (hopefully) and you want a good social evening with some nice (also hopefully) whisky.

9 years ago 0

@Alexsweden
Alexsweden replied

My "novice" friends really enjoyed a smaller assortment of chocolates when i hosted last. All of them quite light - milk chocolate, nougat and nuts&raisins

9 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Ol_Jas
Ol_Jas replied

If it's "just" your friends, I say just line 'em up and let 'er rip. Let the whisky just be an excuse for getting together and only spend as much time explicitly talking about the whisky as everyone feels like.

As @robslater1978 says, no great speeches or anything. The last time I did a "serious" (maybe I should say "planned") whisky fest for some friends, I made a list of the bottles that I had lined up and a little quip to each one. This gave a bit of structure to the shenanigans and created something that people could take home if they were really interested in anything we drank. But it also freed me from trying to be something like a brand ambassador and instead I could just talk to my friends.

9 years ago 0

@bourbondrinker

Hi there @robslater1978. I think it turned out quite well. I printed some tasting mats from the internet and had the basics (chocolate, cheese, smoked pork nuts and lot of water. I offered coffee but they declined. We tried 5 whiskies cross-region (Spayside, Highland and Isla) and revied them without any written notes. We spend about 2 hours having fun. I think It's time to arange a second one. "village Whisky group " sounds good to me tell me more!

9 years ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@bourbondrinker

Sounds intriguing. I've never had smoked pork nuts. Is it anything like prairie oysters?

;)

9 years ago 1Who liked this?

@MaltyMike
MaltyMike replied

I agree with other posts: keep it simple; understand the "whisky level" of your guests; choose 3-5 whiskies that work together; use tulip shaped glassware; provide water and tea spoons for adding water to the whisky; let one person take the lead; finally have fun and don't make it too serious!

9 years ago 0

@bourbondrinker "village whisky group" consists of6 of us who all live in the same village witgin 5 minutes walk of each other. We all enjoy whisky.

We have around 4-5 tastings a year, attend whisky tasting events together (eg Whisky Live) and this year are going to the Speyside Whisky Festival.

A group of friends who share the same tastes... well sort of!

9 years ago 0

@Abunadhman
Abunadhman replied

@Victor: Sage advice, especially having plenty of fresh drinking water on hand, which can't be over- stated! @bourbondriinker: I'm sure all members would like to know your tasting goes!

Cheers and Good Luck.

9 years ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@A'bunadhman

I agree, I'm particularly curious about ho people responded to the smoked pork nuts...

9 years ago 0

@bourbondrinker

Sorry @Nozinan I missed a comma Smoked Pork, nuts...hahahaha

9 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Jules
Jules replied

I guess the REAL question is - do I pour that bottle of 300$ malt for my buddy who says he 'likes' Scotch...? :-D

9 years ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@Jules

That depends on 2 things:

  1. What does he mean by "likes"?

  2. What does he mean by "Scotch"?

The answers to those questions will give you the answer to your question.

9 years ago 0

@Jules
Jules replied

@Nozinan well, it was kind of a rhetorical question :-) I have several friends who CLAIM to really like single malt, but they baulk when I pour them nicely aged peaty or heavily sherried drams... so as a rule I now give 'em the 10YO that tastes of Bourbon instead, and everyone is happy ;-D

9 years ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@Jules I think you have your answer...

9 years ago 0

numen replied

I'd echo comments of people here, but also make sure that you know what you want to achieve through the tasting and making sure that your expectations track with those of your guests. The first time I had a few friends over for a 'tasting,' I assumed that they'd just follow my lead and really take the time with the liquid. I poured them some of my very best stuff, only to have them sling it back like they were drinking tequila shots. Needless to say, I was highly disappointed.

The next time that I had them over, I focused on wanting them to appreciate the variety of sherried whiskies, so I plotted out a few to drink and explained a bit more about the process. Eventually, we all shied away from more formal tasting experiences because people preferred a more relaxing setting with the opportunity to just chat and unwind. With that, I usually offer up one or two really nice pours for them to appreciate something particular, but tend to go more with solid drinkers for social events.

9 years ago 0

@bourbondrinker

I hear what you're saying.@numen. Once I presented the clencairn glass and got laught at! They were looking for "real whiskey glasses". Any way cheers with a glass of Copper fox rye ....

9 years ago 1Who liked this?

@cherylnifer
cherylnifer replied

@sengjc: is it necessary to use a fresh glass with each round of tasting? One of the many suggestions I have encountered is to encourage tasters to drink plenty of water. I thought that if I could make drinking water between rounds a part of my process, I couldalso have each taster rinse/flush their glass between rounds too. I recently was asked to create/host a bourbon tasting event, which would be auctioned to benefit a local charity. So I have been researching as many resources as possible for ideas/suggestions.

9 years ago 0

@Alexsweden
Alexsweden replied

I give a designated water glass to everyone and also encourage guests to thoroughly clean the glencairn with water between each round. Also a good way to get your water down since you need to empty the glencairn again

9 years ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@cherylnifer

In principle it is probably best to use a fresh glass for each whisky. However, I have had up to 11 people at a tasting and I had to borrow glencairns to have one per person, so the second best is to rinse thoroughly between pours...

9 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor replied

@cherylnifer, if you have a lot of rounds of whisky, and a lot of tasters, you had better have a multitude of glasses if you want to use a fresh glass every time. And you better not mind having a boat-load of dirty glasses to clean later. We have a lot of tastings for 8-12 people, and we typically taste 15-20 whiskies in a long afternoon, sometimes 5 or 10 more than that. What we find practical is rinsing the glasses out between pours, encouraging the drinking of the water, and drying them out with paper towels before re-use. We do also have enough glassware to have additional glasses to pass out if someone wants to nurse a previous sample while accepting one or more new ones as well. Having a lot of glasses for a tasting is pretty, but very cumbersome.

Exceptions? Well, if someone has finished on Corryvreckan and afterwards just has to try some Van Winkle bourbon, you had better use a new glass. Rinsing quickly with water will just not be enough.

9 years ago 1Who liked this?

@cherylnifer
cherylnifer replied

What a timely occurrence for this discussion thread. I was recently asked to create/host a bourbon tasting event for up to six (or eight) tasting guests. This tasting event would be offered as one lot in an upcoming charity auction. It stems from the charity organizer’s knowledge that I enjoy drinking a variety of whiskies, and that it is know many of the charity patrons are regular, mainstream bourbon drinkers. I have never hosted such an event before, but I am excited to try. I am planning to pair bourbon with food items. My focus of this event is threefold. First is to use five bourbons available for purchase in Michigan, but not generally offered in area bars and restaurants. I am looking to reach beyond Markers Mark, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Old Granddad, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, etc. I want to provide my guests with insight to some of the other wonderful bourbons available to them. Second, I want to provide a broad range of perceptible flavors within the bourbons used. Tricky because I realize individual palates differ. And I am sure that the range of alcohol content between my offered bourbons will also have some impact. So sampling the bourbons both neat and with water will be a part of the experience. Third, I want to showcase a small selection of food/bourbon combinations. The foods paired will either accentuate, or compliment, a flavor(s) generally noted within that specific bourbon. I still have plenty of details to figure out, and lot of practice to do. But I am excited at the prospects of hosting such an event.

9 years ago 0

@bourbondrinker

I'm sure you will enjoy it @cherylnifer, as much as I did. I'm already stiring up the waters for my second one...

9 years ago 0

@fiddich1980
fiddich1980 replied

For those who are planning to organise a whisky tasting:

Do not use new unopened bottles for a tasting. A freshly opened bottle is tight whisky and has not had time to open up and can lead to bad impressions from the taster's perspective. I found this out a couple of years ago when hosting a whisky tasting.

If you are hosting a whisky tasting because you want to try a few different whiskies. Do not try and charge your guests for the dram they are going to taste. If you are going to do this - don't host a whisky tasting. Instead, have each person attending bring an opened bottle from their cabinet which they want everyone to experience. I was chatting with a relative and he mentioned this incident to me. It left a very bad impression on him of a particular friend.

Before even hosting a tasting, make sure that a safe means of transportation or overnight stay is a available to your guest

5 years ago 4Who liked this?

@archivist
archivist replied

Charging guests for a dram is wrong. I am sorry to learn about @fiddich1980 relative's friend.

As for organizing whisky tastings, I like to put out a few notepads and pens so people can write down their impressions if they want to. I find using my mobile phone to take notes too infuriating but I'm a paper/pen person anyway.

5 years ago 2Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote replied

Our group consists of six of us. When we do a tasting session we all contribute to the cost of a really good bottle, maybe two, usually SMWS outturns. We all contribute a couple of decent heels and whoever is hosting provides some food, usually some light appies, occasionally a full sit down meal. We get together every few months and rotate the hosting duties. Works well for us.

5 years ago 5Who liked this?