Wade on Birmingham

Birmingham’s Best Eats: How to host a whiskey tasting


whiskey, bourbon, Scotch

Buy, borrow or steal real glasses for your whiskey tasting party.
Anything’s better than plastic. Photo by Sean Kelley.

By Sean Kelley

A few years ago, a New Orleans chef surprised me with an aged bourbon that had all the character and complexity of a refined single malt Scotch. I thought bourbon was the stuff you mixed with Coke before football games.

Birmingham's Best EatsI’ve been on a whiskey journey since, touring Kentucky distilleries, interviewing tasters and sampling varieties. It culminated in a springtime whiskey tasting on our farm, and we’re planning our second this fall. We spent about $400 on our party, the bulk on whiskey.

So how do you host a whiskey tasting?

Plan with variety in mind. We sampled three bourbons and three Scotches; each was very different. I started with mild mainstream ones: If you start out with an unexpected or harsh kind, like a peaty Islay Scotch, your guests may have a hard time tasting the next sample.

Discuss the lineup. After some online research, I kept notes on cards to share with guests. I asked them what flavors they tasted, noting them for future reference.

Have plenty of distilled water on hand. Some vintages are better and more interesting with a few drops of water. And not everyone drinks whiskey straight.

Choose a complementary menu. Ours included smoked ribs, jalepeño creamed corn, bourbon baked beans and, of course, bourbon balls.

It’s a tasting, not a drinking orgy. Keep tasting sizes to around 1/2 ounce. Use a jigger to measure. And spread your party over several hours: We sampled from 5 to 9 p.m. and allowed guests plenty of time to recover before they left.


Sean KelleySean Kelley (@seankelley) is a Birmingham health writer and food lover as well as writer, editor and online content manager for Everwell.

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    Sunday, August 1, 2010, 1:00 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shaun Chavis, Foodie Book Club. Foodie Book Club said: How to host a whiskey tasting (and keep your friends from killing themselves): http://bit.ly/9IJq8O #bhameats […]

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