How to Host the Perfect Whiskey Tasting

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: September 26, 2022

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Any time is the right to gather up a few bottles of your favorite whiskeys and Scotch and have yourself a whiskey tasting. Summon up your friends, too. A lot of fun can be had when you and your friends are gathered around, sipping a variety of whiskeys and chatting about the flavors, aromas, and origins of the bottles. After all, whiskey is BIG right now. So that raises the question: How do you host the perfect whiskey tasting?

There are plenty of ways to go about it, but we have gathered up the best of the best ideas here for you to pick and choose. Just like a tasting. Look at that.

Table of Contents

What is a Whiskey Tasting Party?

Have you ever gone to a brewery or distillery for a tour and were offered tastes of the products? That is, in essence, a whiskey tasting. Tasting parties are big in the adult world these days. You can have food or beverage tastings. Rum, wine, cake…anything with flavor can be used in a tasting party. For a whiskey tasting, you can expect a variety of whiskeys, whiskey-inspired food pairings, and games included throughout the evening.

How to Host the Perfect Whiskey Tasting

Throwing a party is all about knowing who to invite, what to make, what to pour, how to pour it, and all the little extra steps that make the evening extra special.

For those who would rather listen than read, this video by Whiskey Tribe also details some fantastic ideas and pointers to make your whiskey tasting a success:

Choose a Theme

One of the best ways to figure out what you need and how much is to decide on the theme of your whiskey tasting. There are hundreds of whiskeys out there. Decide if you want peated whiskeys, Scotch, Japanese whiskeys, Irish whiskey, single malt varieties, or ones only aged in bourbon casks. You could also decide by the age of the whiskey. 10 year old whiskeys are going to taste different when compared to something aged 16 or even 30 years.

Another option is to ask everyone to bring one bottle of whiskey from their designated country. For example, the person assigned Scotland brings Bruichladdich and another assigned Canada brings Hiram Walker. Just make sure you do some research beforehand. Some countries do not produce whiskey!

If your friends are not entirely sold on drinking straight burning whiskey, you could also spin the idea to contain whiskey cocktails. Swap out a couple of whiskeys for a single cocktail or several to see which whiskey is the best for sours or other drinks.

Should I Consider a Blind Tasting?

Sure! Why not? A blind tasting flight is not only impressive, it adds an element of intrigue. Instead of naming the whiskeys in the list, put a number beside them. Still plan out discussions and snacks to enhance the whiskeys but do not mention where they are from or who made them. By the end of the tasting, you can reveal the facts. Blind whiskey tastings can be a fun way to explore new varieties but also open up the senses to possibilities.

Figure Out The Number of Whiskey Bottles

You want each person to have a flight of at least 5 whiskeys but no more than 8. Otherwise, you risk fatiguing your palate and being unable to taste anything. Each pour should be around ½ an oz, or one finger, of whiskey. This is not enough to get someone drunk, so worry not. Your friends should be able to drive home afterwards.

That means that if you invite 5 people, you probably will only need one bottle of each whiskey or Scotch. However, you will need more if you are bringing in more people or plan on letting people taste the flight then choose which one then want to drink in earnest.

You are the host, and thus, it’s your responsibility to decide on the budget and how much whiskey you need. One option is asking each person to bring a single bottle of whiskey that fits into the theme.

Brush Up on Drinking Techniques

Whiskey is a unique world, one that has history, culture, and even special glassware. Now that does not mean you have to run out and immediately purchase Glencairn glasses or snifters. However, it will make your whiskey tasting evening much more authentic. Plus, the size of the Glencairn glass is perfect for the small pours required at a tasting event. If you would rather use another glass, make sure it has a tulip shape.

Next, brush up on “nosing.” Like wine, you should encourage your guests to smell their spirits before taking a sip. Take a couple of sniffs outside the glass. Then swirl the contents and stick your nose a little deeper, enjoying the layers of aromas within the whiskey. If you get peated whiskey, your guests will delight in the wonderful varieties of smells, ranging from campfire to vanilla or a bay breeze.

Make a Flavor Map

An often overlooked key to a wonderful whiskey tasting is the order. You do not want your guests to drink liquid smoke and then try to pick out the notes of a more delicate spirit. Instead, save the peaty and smoky offerings for the end of your journey. The quieter whiskeys deserve a place at the front of the flight so that your palate is not already overwhelmed.

Consider The Water

For a whiskey tasting, you will need water. One water is for drinking. The other will be to enhance the flavor of each whiskey in the flight. Watch your guests delight in the changes in their whiskey after taking a sip without water and then another with. Now, the key here is to add just a little water—a teaspoon max.

Here is some trivia to surprise your guests when they ask about the water: the flavors in the whiskey are easier to pick out when the alcohol is slightly diluted. By adding a few drops of water, the taste experience evolves.

Also, skip the ice. If you want to keep the whiskey cool, buy some whiskey stones. Using these little cubes of stone will keep the spirits cool without watering it down completely. Your guests will thank you.

Whiskey Tasting

Plan Out The Snacks

Since you and your guests are going to be consuming alcohol, you are also going to need food to keep everyone on their feet. Choosing some light palate-cleansing snacks, such as unsalted crackers or bar nuts, is a great way to kick off the evening. When selecting your whiskeys, consider the flavors mentioned in the description on the bottle. If there are apricot notes, for example, put out plates of nectarine, peach, or apricot to bring out those flavors.

Nuts, like almonds and walnuts, let the tannic properties of whiskey dance on the tongue. Buttery fats, including cheeses, avocado, and even sliced meats—pepperoni or salami—are excellent choices. The salt in deli meats brings about some umami, as does little slivers of sashimi. Olives are a wonderful choice for your vegetarian friends.

Have earthy or rich whiskey lined up? Bring out some chocolates.

Discuss Each Whiskey You Taste

One of the most important parts of a whiskey tasting is the chat that happens after each sampling. Prompt your guests to discuss each whiskey. What did they like or dislike? Who notices the smoky scent? Did everyone like the peated Scotch? Which one paired best with the smoked cheeses or the chocolates? Spread some whiskey knowledge, too. Speaking about the whiskeys is only going to make the night much more memorable.

Whiskey Tasting: It’s Worth a Dram!

Wrap up your intimate evening of whiskey tasting with a thank you toast and a few more refreshments. By keeping these tips for the best whiskey tasting in mind, you will no doubt have an event that flows smoothly. All it takes is a little planning. Happy drinking!