Your Tasting at Home

Many whisky connoisseurs would like to organise a tasting for friends, acquaintances or co-workers. Of course it should be a wonderful experience for everybody, but what makes a good tasting? Is it the whiskies that are tasted, the guests or rather the atmosphere? Opinions differ. Surely it's a combination of many factors.

Of course a fitting choice of whiskies is essential for a good tasting, but there's more to it. In this article we give you some advice on how to arrange your tasting so it becomes a real success. First we need to know: What is the goal of your tasting? Do you want to provide the guests with whiskies they like or have always wanted to try? Do you even want to impress them with special bottlings? Are they connoisseurs or beginners, who want to know something new about whisky? Or do you just want to have a fun evening in pleasant company?

1. Preparations

The choice of the location should play a crucial role in your plans. You need time and a relaxed atmosphere in order to taste a whisky thoroughly. Don't choose a loud bar but rather your own living room, for example. If you want to taste several whiskies professionally, you need a large table so you have enough space for glasses, water, notepads etc.

A table with whisky glasses on it
A prepared table

This leads us to the next point, the right equipment. Depending on the kind of tasting you want to hold, you need more or less equipment. First of all you need enough appropriate glasses for tasting. A whisky glass should be narrow at the top so it can hold the aroma of the whisky and the precious smell doesn't evaporate quickly. It doesn't matter whether the glass has a stem or just a short foot. As a rule of thumb, the glasses shouldn't be too large for light whiskies. A strong, peated whisky, however, can better develop its full strength in a larger glass.

Please make sure that you have a new glass for each whisky or that you at least provide enough water to rinse the glasses. A big sip of water between two whiskies is good for everybody. It's important that there are no leftovers of the previous whisky in the glass. This would distort the taste of the following whisky.

Sample bottles, Notepat and a pen, Tasting glasses
Glasses for tasting

Water is not only helpful for cleaning purposes but also to dilute a whisky. Especially when you taste cask strength whiskies, you should add a few drops of still water to reduce the whisky to drinking strength. Small water jars or pipettes are useful tools to dispense the right amount of water.

You should only offer still water that contains few minerals and therefore has little taste of its own, for example Volvic or Evian. In some areas the local tap water is also well-suited. This article explains the influence of water on the taste of whisky

Scottish Highland spring water
Scottish highland spring water

When you invite beginners you should tell them not to show up with an empty stomach. On the other hand it is not advisable to eat directly before the tasting. Especially spicy food distorts the taste buds in your mouth. For the same reason we don't recommend to serve chocolate, cookies of cheese with your whisky. The intense flavours of the beverages have a major effect on your perception of the whisky. Of course you can do special tastings where you use this taste distortion to see what kind of effect chocolate has on your whisky.

2. Additional equipment

There is a lot that you can do with your tasting if you have the right equipment. Here are a few ideas for you. Have you ever tried tasting your whisky from a traditional quaich? It may not be very comfortable,  but it is very exquisite. There are also a lot of different glasses to choose from. For example you can serve your whisky in wobbly tumblers or in dark glasses to hide the colour of the whisky. The dark glasses are especially interesting when you do blind tastings so your guests can purely focus on the taste.

Also very helpful are the tasting pads with numbering on them. This helps the guests to sort the whiskies to the notes they made. Alternatively you can number all the glasses. It is also very popular to serve small sample bottles to your guests so they can take the experience home. Most of the time your guests will not want to try to many whiskies to not get to effected by the alcohol.

a Tasting pat with four round markings for the glasses. The Tasts in a rainbow shape from left to right Sherry, berries, apples an peaches, citrus, flowers, vanilla, caramel, malt, nuts, wood, coffee, spices, leather and tabaco, salt and sea, smoke
Tasting pad

3. The Whisky

Let's move on to the choice of whiskies. This is probably the most difficult part. If you just taste the whiskies you have at home, it's easy. If you want to buy the whiskies first, we would recommend the following: Provide between three and six whiskies. No one can stay focused for more whiskies. Our taste perception is impaired after a few whiskies and we can't taste any more differences. You better taste only a few whiskies but go into detail. You should also explain this to your guests so they don't take your offering only few bottles for stinginess.

4. Target Group

Beginners

If you hold a tasting for unexperienced beginners, provide the standard bottlings of the popular distilleries.  Don't choose too complicated and rare whiskies. Beginners can't appreciate their taste (and their value) yet. Besides, it would be convenient if the whiskies were still available for purchase, so the guests that acquired a taste for whisky can buy these bottles afterwards. 

If you want to give your guests an overview on the aroma and flavour range of whisky, choose one mild, one strong, one sherried and one peated whisky. If you want the range to be even broader, we would suggest adding an Irish whiskey, an American bourbon or a whisky liqueur. It can also be interesting to taste a cheap, popular blended whisky from the supermarket beside high-quality single malts. The difference in taste will be a big surprise.

A compilation of bottles, Glenkinchie 12, Oban 14, Glendronach 15, Lagavulin 16, Bushmills 10, Makers Mark
Whiskies for a tasting with beginners

Experts

For an expert tasting there are many options. There's no right or wrong choice of whiskies. The point of the tasting is to examine the whisky intensely. You can give your tasting a motto, for example Islay whiskies, sherry or wine cask matured whiskies etc. Or you can simply choose new, unknown bottlings. You can also have a really interesting evening if each friend brings a bottle and you get a diverse range of whiskies. However, the whiskies don't always have to be as different as possible. When the whiskies are quite similar to each other, you have to try hard to detect the subtle nuances. Even for experienced connoisseurs this is a welcome challenge.

A picture with Lagavulin 16, Ardbeg TEN, Laphroaig 10, Caol Ila 12, Bowmore 12, Bunnahabhain
Whiskies for an Islay tasting

5. The Tasting

We are often asked for the right tasting order. In general, you should start with lighter, milder whiskies. The taste buds in the nose and on the palate are still unaffected and can better detect the subtle aromas. Then proceed to stronger whiskies, for example whiskies matured in a sherry cask. Heavily peated whiskies should be served towards the end. Their aroma often still lingers in the mouth long after the tasting and affects everything you try afterwards.

Let's get to the day of the tasting itself. If you like to pour the samples in advance, make sure to cover the glasses. Otherwise the aromas of the whiskies would evaporate early. It's better to pour the whiskies just right before the start. 

If you want to give your tasting a professional character, provide notepads so each guest can take notes on their samples. 

It is also informative if you can tell something about the background of the bottlings or - for beginners - about whisky in general. You'll find plenty of information on our website.

6. Blind Tastings

For beginners and experts alike, tasting previously unknown whiskies is always exciting. This can be done in various ways. One interesting option is to reveal which whiskies are served, but not which whisky is in which glass. The more similar the whiskies are to each other, the more difficult it gets.

Last but not least our advice is to approach the tasting in a relaxed way. Don't put yourself under pressure and don't expect everything to go as planned. If you enjoy yourself, it will rub off on your guests and you will experience a great tasting.

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