How to host a home whiskey tasting

by
November 29, 2017

In kindergarten they taught us to share, and sometimes the best part of the whiskey experience is sharing it with your friends. Or even better, gathering your friends to share their stash with you!

This a great time of the year to have a home whiskey tasting. You could just get a few bottles together and let everyone help themselves while they sit around and chat about the ways of the world. However, it’s a lot more fun if everyone is tasting together and there’s a progression of styles to sip from.

There are several ways to go about this. The first step is deciding how many people to gather and then how many whiskeys to try. If everyone is tasting at the same time and then commenting, it’s usually best to keep the group small—a dozen or fewer—to stay organized and allow the experience to be one communal conversation.

Then there’s what kind of whiskey to pour. You can choose a theme (more on that ahead) or simply decide on a few simply because you like them. Either way, here a few rules of thumb.

How many bottles?

Each taster should have a flight of at least 5 whiskeys for variation, and probably no more than 8, or risk palate fatigue. The pours should only be about ½ an oz each, or roughly one finger. In terms of liquid volume, you probably won’t need more than one bottle of each whiskey, unless you expect a lot to be consumed or it’s a large party. As a host, depending on your budget and state of your collection, you could provide all the whiskey yourself or have people bring their own to add to the mix.

home whiskey tasting: Jura TastingJura Tasting / Photo Credit: Tamara Polajnar

What kind of glass is best?

How many should be on hand? Some whiskey enthusiasts swear by using only snifter or Glencairn style glasses to taste effectively. However, rocks glasses or even wine glasses with smaller to medium bowls will do the trick nicely. You also don’t have to give everyone more than 2 or 3 glasses at a time. Either dump out (or better yet, finish!) the first set of tastes before moving on and you’ll save on glassware, not to mention dishwashing duty.

Should we add water to the whiskeys?

Allow people to taste first without water, then give them the option to add a couple of drops to see if that affects the tasting experience. It’s a good idea to provide liquid droppers (you can often find them at a pharmacy) or straws for that purpose.

What about water to sip?

YES! Very important that in addition to the whiskey, everyone gets a water glass and is encouraged to use it throughout the event. Hydration is key, friends!

home whiskey tasting: whiskey tastingWhiskey tasting glass / Photo Credit: CoffeeGeek

Which whiskey should we drink first?

The best way to progress through a tasting is to sip the lightest whiskey first and end with the richest and/or most heavily flavored/smokiest. As a host, it’s a good idea to taste everything yourself first to be sure you have the right order. Lighter in color does not necessarily mean lighter in flavor.

Should I serve snacks?

By all means, yes! As with wine, whiskey is terrific with cheese and charcuterie, hummus and most party dips. It also pairs beautifully with chocolate and nuts. Just don’t serve anything with a lot of hot spices or anything too herbal, or it will conflict with the tasting experience. Also note, crackers are great to clean the palate between whiskeys.

Home whiskey tasting themes

All one region or style

Assembling a lineup consisting of all bourbon or all American, all Irish, all Japanese, etc. is one way to go. Or you could do all single malts—either from Scotland or a selection from different parts of the world. Or select some world whiskies such as those from India, Tasmania, Taiwan and Japan. Lots of possibilities here.

home whiskey tasting: Yoichi TastingYoichi Tasting / Photo Credit: blese

All one age

For instance, you can compare 12-year-old Irish single malts with each other, such as Knappogue Castle to The Irishman. Or taste those against a 12-year-old Scotch such as Glenfiddich or The Macallan. The age-based possibilities are numerous.

All one flavor profile

You can serve peated and/or smoky whiskeys from different places. For instance, having a tasting with Lagavulin 16 YearConnemara PeatedCorsair Triple Smoke and Hakushu 12 Year would be a fine roundup. Or a tasting of whiskeys with wine finishes (We’ve talked about wine finishes). Or a tasting of whiskeys with other spirit finishes, such as rum or brandy casks.

Whiskey Battle Royale!

Have a regional smackdown. Let tasters decide if that Brooklyn whiskey really is as good as or better than something from Kentucky. Or if you prefer Japanese single malt over Scotch single malt. Lots of options here. Just be prepared for some fightin’ words!

home whiskey tasting: Jura TastingJura Tasting / Photo Credit: Tamara Polajnar

What about a blind tasting?

One of the best ways to impress the group is to cover the bottles and number each whiskey. Let everyone reference the whiskey only by the number assigned to it, and then reveal them at the end. Ta-da! Again, not necessary, but it’s a really fun way to taste, and also train your senses for further research. This tactic often has surprising results.


Time to pick out your own bottles for a tasting!

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