I am frequently asked by people “I am hosting a Bourbon Tasting. What should I do?” I always tell them that there are some basic things you should do when hosting a Bourbon tasting. It is more than just pouring Bourbon in a glass and talking about it, even though that is a fun activity for an evening. There should be an educational element so that everyone has a chance to learn something about what they are drinking.  These are the steps I suggest they take to host a great Bourbon tasting.

  • Step One: Pick a theme for the tasting. This can be a simple theme like styles of Bourbons with a traditional Bourbon made with rye, a Bourbon made with wheat and a Tennessee whiskey for comparison. Other themes could be Bourbons from the same distiller, Bourbons of the same age, Bourbons of the same brand but different proofs, Bourbons of the same brand but different ages.  If there is something you think will be interesting, go with that theme but plan the tasting with a purpose.
  • Step Two: Pour the Bourbons. Don’t go overboard. Limit the tasting itself to three or four Bourbons and make the pours small – about a half an ounce each. You can always come back and pour more after the tasting but the purpose of the tasting is to learn something about the product. It is best to pour all of the guests their Bourbons before you start the tasting and remind them that it might be good to go back and forth between the Bourbons as the tasting proceeds. Just because the Bourbon is in the glass doesn’t mean they have to drink it all in one taste. Use the same type of glass for each pour. I prefer a Glencairn Whiskey glass and they are available in most distillery gift shops, however rocks glasses work fine as well.
  • Step Three: Provide water. Water can be bottled water or distilled water without chlorine and other chemicals in tap water. If you have a water filtration system on your tap that should be fine. There should be water to drink between tastings as well as some to add to the whiskey to open it up. Glencairn makes small water pitchers for adding water. Others provide eye droppers for adding water. I often use a straw to take water from my drinking water or use the cap on a bottled water to control the water I am adding to the Bourbon.
  • Step Four: Provide a palate cleanser: saltine crackers or corn chips are the most common palate cleansers.
  • Step Five: Provide pencil and paper for notes. Each person should at the least write down their impressions of the Bourbons for future reference. If you wish, create a tasting sheet with places to note Brand, Distiller, Proof, Age, Color, Nose and Finish.
  • Step Six: Provide some food for comparison. I would suggest dried fruits, fresh fruits, cheeses, country ham or other similar meats, olives and chocolates of several styles. You don’t have to have all of these but two or three are good to use in the tasting. It is always interesting to see how foods have an effect on the tasting experience.
  • Step Seven: Proceed to the tasting and have fun. Be responsible and don’t let your guests drink and drive. I suggest that you serve a more substantial meal after the tasting and before they get behind the wheel.

If you follow these simple steps your Bourbon tasting should be a success. I would estimate the time allowed should be 15-20 minutes per whiskey. I am saying this with a group of 6-12 tasters in mind but it could be longer for bigger groups. Have fun with your tasting and drink responsibly.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller