How to Host a Whisky Tasting

With our next supermarket whisky challenge coming up soon, now might be a good time to have a look at how to organise a whisky tasting. Without attention to the way the presentation is held, the object of the exercise will be lost to an uncontrolled ‘session’!

To begin with, there are two distinctions in tastings. In one style the whisky is chosen and attendance is open to all. Alternatively, a group is looking to have a tasting tailored to their needs.

There is usually a pattern to proceedings, most notably the layout. Best practice is to have all drams poured before the start so give yourself enough time for the filling of glasses and the arrangements of places. For comfort, a seat with everything laid out on a table in front of the taster is better than standing.

Glassware is very important. Essentially we want to capture the aromas on offer while allowing the gentle warming of the contents. Outwardly fluted or straight sided glasses will not arrest the bouquet as will a bowl style body. The thickness of the glass as well as a solid base will reduce ability for the heat of your hand to warm the spirit. As many elements in the whisky are thermoactive it is important to bring these to the fore to fully understand a dram’s character. Stemmed glasses present a whisky much better than the traditional shape, although there is nothing quite like a heavy cut crystal tumbler, they seem to fit into the hand so naturally.

Ideally each glass will come with its own lid. More than one variant is available but as long as the aroma is kept in, the ‘noser’ will be given the best chance of finding the whisky’s soul. If lids are not to be got then any covering will help.

If people are sitting, then each placing will benefit from a glass of water to cleanse the palate, some relatively neutral nibbles like oatcakes for the same reason, a pen and paper for notes as well as a small glass water carafe or jug for diluting.

If the host wants the participants to leave with information, for marketing or educational reasons, it is an idea to supply notes of the main points of interest, even if they will be covered in the discussion. A brief distillery profile and/or an overview of production, industry history and distinct styles of taste will all help illuminate any dark corners in the taster’s understanding.

How Much?
How many drams should be offered? In practice, no fewer than three, with five or possibly six maximum. Little will be learnt with one or two as comparison will be impossible or minimal. Too many drams and the palate will tire, with the nuances of flavour lying unappreciated.

For this reason it is also important to work through the drams in a sensible order. The first should be the lightest. Perhaps a blend. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that blends are inferior and not worthy of study. Quality blends can outshine many a low end malt, although to be fair, these two categories are so different comparison can often be impossible. Other than a blend, a Lowland or light Speyside can be an excellent appetiser.

Looking at the end of the tasting, it is normal to finish on a peaty drop. Big Islays are hard acts to follow with perhaps only the most sherried
stealing the show. For this reason, the Spanish cask example is usually in the penultimate position. As we have covered light, sherried and peaty, we may fill the remaining glasses with either a good grain whisky or something of venerable age. Grain whiskies account for more than half the maturing stocks in Scotland but remain frustratingly elusive as singles.

To bring the evening to a close, consider a game like getting those present to guess the drams by nose alone. This will need opaque glassware so colours don’t give the game away. Alternatively take a popularity poll. Perhaps the cheapest will win or maybe the grain will conquer the doubters with its sweet vanilla kick.

Whatever, always remember whisky is like life… too important to be taken too seriously.

Book Tickets
Don’t forget our Speyside Whisky Challenge on 6th May. Speyside whiskies are light and make a good introduction to malt whisky. This will be a blind challenge to see which is the best between 3 supermarket whiskies, 2 official bottlings and an independent.

The last time we ran a challenge the results of the vote were, let’s just say, not what everyone expected. Price means nothing! So, if you’d like to take part in the challenge to find the best of the Speyside malts, come along to the prestigious Macdonald Holyrood Hotel at 7.30pm on Tuesday 6th May. Numbers are limited so early booking is essential. Tickets are £13 full price but quote ‘Lothian Life‘ to claim a discount of £3. Call 0131 556 5864 to book your ticket now.

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