Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How to Host an American Whiskey Tasting

While most whiskey enthusiasts have their go-to set of a few brands and occasionally try something new, it's rare that you'll get to try more than a few side by side. However, these sorts of tasting comparisons can lead to some surprising realizations: a new favorite, a better sense of what distinguishes one from another, and a clearer sense of a whiskey's aromas and flavors. With a few friends, a whiskey tasting party can be fun, informative, and delicious, and it can be provided by the host or held potluck-style. American whiskey offers a relatively affordable starting point, and plenty of options for price points and personalities. While this can be heavy on Bourbon should you so choose, you'll also be able to introduce your guests to some of the wonderful variety available.

First, you'll want to make sure you're set for glassware. While small, odorless plastic cups can suffice in a pinch, you'll ideally want to use whiskey glasses - snifter-like glasses with a bulbous bottom and flared lip - or, if your kitchen is already well-stocked with them, wine glasses.

When it comes to the actual tasting process, you can keep things casual with friends flitting from bottle to bottle with their glasses, but if you want a more formal blind tasting experience, you'll want to set up flights for your guests. One way to do this is to set out paper place mats with a bottle of water and a glass for each whiskey you'll be tasting, and with a pen, number each glass. In case your guests would like to spit as they taste, which is standard for professional tastings, put an opaque plastic cup next to each setting. Offer your guests a pen and paper to take notes. Put each whiskey in a paper bag with a corresponding number written on it to keep guests from knowing what each is as they taste it, and serve small, approximately 1 oz. pours of each. Encourage your guests to take notes on their impressions of each whiskey, and to try each one with and without a splash of water. After everyone has finished tasting, reveal what each whiskey was; there are sure to be a few surprises!

Though there are tons of great options for the whiskies you'll want to try, and you could host a tasting with as few as three - we'd keep it to under 12, though - here are a few suggestions. You may want to consider having:

● A big-name Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, such as Maker's Mark or Wild Turkey
● A lesser-known Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, such as Pogue or Willet
● A Bourbon from outside of Kentucky, such as Tuthilltown Baby Bourbon Whiskey from New York State
● A Tennessee Whiskey, such as George Dickel or Jack Daniels Gentleman Jack
● A rye whiskey, such as Templeton or High West Rendezvous
● An oddball or two, such as Clear Creek "McCarthy's" or Ransom Spirits “Whipper Snapper”
● A white dog (moonshine) or two, such as Finger Lakes Distilling “Glen Thunder”
● A wheat whiskey, such as Bernheim's

You can change the lineup based on your tastes. New whiskies and bottlings are introduced with exciting regularity, particularly white dogs and ryes, so you could easily host more specialized American whiskey tastings. Do a little research on each beforehand so that you can give your guests some interesting tidbits; learning what makes them different is half the fun!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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