Whiskey, right now is trending like never before. It feels like the taboo of hard liquor that has hung over the heads of social gatherers for probably since the US prohibition days has lifted. Bringing a bottle of Single Malt to a dinner party is no longer frowned upon, and people are more likely to smile than raise an eyebrow if they come across your whiskey collection displayed in your kitchen or mantlepiece. Whiskey is not just cool again, its stylish, refined, and tastes god damn incredible. And with many more fine, reputable and award-winning whiskeys coming in at under $100 now, people are coming up with great ways to enjoy it. Namely -Whiskey parties. That’s right. Parties dedicated to sharing, tasting, pairing, and enjoying the finest alcoholic option on the shelf right now.
We’ve hosted at least a couple of these, so here’s our ultimate guide to how to host a whisky party.
Which whiskeys to party with?
So, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll probably have noticed we’ve spelled the word several different ways already (keep up autocorrect!) This is intentional because you’ll actually see it spelt several different ways on different bottles at the store.
The Irish add the ‘e’ while the Scots leave it out. If you’re serious about a Whisky tasting party, you’ll want to have both styles on board. And don’t forget the ‘mericans, they’ll make an appearance as well, and rightly so, boasting some of the highest regarded pours in the world. And we can’t leave out the Japanese, who have deservedly earned themselves a spot in the best single malts in the world category.
But for our tip, get at least one from each country. One Scotch, a US, an Irish and a Japanese. That way you’ll fully be able to realise the tasting difference in each of them.
Don’t worry if you’re not an expert or cant remember the individual differences in grain, distilling process, peat or stills. 90% of the time the bottle will explain this to you.
As long as you have one from each region, you’ll have noticeable difference in tasting notes and reactions from your party attendees.
At the time of writing, here’s our tips for some of the best under and over $100 from each region for you to consider. All available for you here Australia.
For an American whiskey, get your party some Blantons, you wont regret that. Not only a beautiful bourbon whiskey, but such an attractive bottling.
Finally, round it out if you can with a Japanese variety like this one from Nikka.
The Menu to Compliment the Tasting
Your guests may want to get involved, and this is probably one of the best ways to have a whisky party, but some coordination of effort probably wouldn’t hurt. We suggest, if people are going to bring plates along, you divide suggestions up into nuts/snacks, main, fruit, chocolate and cheese.
Its easy to get caught up in whisky infused recipes, so suggest maybe 1-2 of these, and the rest focus on avoiding strong or distracting flavours that may overpower the tasting fun.
Whisky goes exceptionally well with smoked options, so perhaps leave these toward the end of the dining period. As far as meats, pork is probably the go-to flavour that really brings out whiskeys finest notes. Grilled steaks, meatloaf and salmon are also all great choices, particularly if seasoned with citrus or fruit combinations.
For your deserts, decadence is king. Chocolate should be dark and cheese aged and flavoursome. Once your palette gets solid momentum with these fine foods, the colours of the quality whiskeys will really shine through.
For your snacks and fruits, suggest dried, flavoursome fruits such as dates or peach, and salty nuts (even pub mix) are going to be well received by your party. Remember, the food is important!
While people are technically there for a “whiskey tasting” they’re still humans, humans need food, and paying a little bit of attention to the menu will go along way towards 10x’ing the greatness of your event.
Whiskey Tasting Accoutrement
You’re not holding a tasting using mugs, k? Actually, not even your regular glassware will really cut it. Whiskey tastings call for a few particulars which will be appreciated by all.
Get yourself (and your fellow tasters) some small 50ml glasses, or if you’re really going all out, whiskey balloons. These will make the tasting session more pure, feel more real, and underscore the elegance of the party.
Get some whiskey stones. Whiskey stones not only stay colder, for longer, but they prevent dilution of the liquor. The last thing you want is people tasking 30ml of whiskey and 15ml of it is water!
You could even gift them to your guests as a parting gift at the end of the party as a memento of the night.
We did that earlier this year and our friends are still talking about it!
Tip: Give the glassware a quick rinse out mid way through the tasting, some of our guests’ lipstick forced us to bring this in halfway!
It’s just drinking (but whiskey) right?
Kind of. Bringing your friends together to taste and appreciate one of the most refined drinks in the world has some additional fun etiquette.
Encourage your guests during the tasting, to smell the whiskeys before they tip them back. Its called “Nosing”. Its pretty much not done with any other drinks besides wine. Different whiskeys will present different aromas, and the act of nosing is one to be perfected.
The thing is, people aren’t acutally that good at detecting specific scents. We have excellent life preserving smell senses, but when it comes to taking apart a scent, what it’s made up from, what it reminds us of, it can be quite new to people. The whiskeys you’ve chosen will have been expertly crafted to evoke certain olfactory responses, and prepare the drinker for the taste that is to follow.
Then there’s the taste moment, what to they taste the moment it hits their pallete, does the taste change, does the smell change as the whiskey is smoothly absorbed? Is the a noticeable taste once its gone? A heat change? Does the body have other reactions? Besides a smile or the cliché’d frown and nod.
Everyones tastebuds will be setup similarly, but slightly different based on their diet, genetics etc. This is where the awesomeness of the tasting comes in, and appreciative discussions/detections to follow.
This is our favourite part.
And we’ve found these are the moments where other-types-of-alcohol drinkers are converted. You don’t get this with beer, you don’t get it with vodka, you CAN get it with wine, but that’s a whole separate article.
The appreciation of whiskey at a tasting party is a special one. The warmness, the deliciousness and the complexity all combine to make what is really a rare party experience.
Timings for your party
We’re not trying to control your entire night, but keep a few of these tips in mind when hosting particularly a whiskey tasting party.
Drink first. This might seem like it goes against everything you’ve been taught, but with a tasting, you don’t want to be stuffed with a rich meal when trying to nose your way through several whiskeys.
Serve some party foods early to prevent sickness from drinking on an empty stomach, but save your main and chocolates for after the heaviest portion of tasting.
Order your whiskeys. Keep the strongest flavours towards the end, and the lightest toward the beginning, this will set you up for being able to notice the earlier lighter, but still incredible notes.
Keep a cocktail for the meals. While we suggest the tasting to be done neat, or with stones, don’t be afraid to offer one or two cocktails with the dinner. This will tie the tasting through to the evening night caps, and give people a chance to taste the whiskeys with additional unusual flavours.
Mr.Gifts actually has a handy shaker which helped us immensely without a professional bartender in attendance! We just put 2 near the bar and had our ingedients ready for DIY instant cocktails.
We’ve covered a lot, and really just wanted to share how we hosted our whiskey parties. We just wanted to pass on how we did them a little better each time, and maybe help you kick your first one off without too many hitches. Because believe us, there will be hitches.
But remember, you’re just hosting a bit of fun. Theres no awards for this stuff. Your friends will love a new take on a cool way to get together, and we guarantee you’ll have some converts by the end of it.
Its also a great way to celebrate birthdays for whiskey lovers, or our family even does it after Christmas Eve dinner! Keep it simple, keep if fun, take photos, there will be smiles and remember our few basic tips for ensuring a great time will be had by all.
Get a range of regional whiskeys. You’ll want at least one of the main 3 (Irish, Scotch and US) and if your party is for 10 or more, include a Japanese for good measure. You wont regret it. Starting out? I think we had 5 at our first gathering. Too many gets confusing and expensive, fast.
Get your food sorted. Don’t do it all yourself. Crowdsource the night and break invitees into Snacks, Main, Cheese or Chocolates. Remember the flavours we spoke about, and ensure everyones onboard with avoiding an overexposure to more whiskey infused items!
At the very least glassware, and if you’re going for the real deal tasting, get some stones or steel balls. Keep the ice for the cocktails and the mugs for the coffee in the morning.
Order the night and order the drinks. Keep the heaviest drinking to the beginning, and keep the strongest whiskeys to the end, This will avoid both overpowering food and malts from bullying out the more delicate whiskeys you have on hand.
Stay present. Its just a party. You just live at the place its at. Whiskey is best enjoyed by those who are relaxed. Find some mood enhancing music, keep the lights at a glow, and soak up one of the coolest ways to sample the worlds most intriguing drink.
Mr. Gifts loves whiskey tasting parties, and its probably why we’ve always carried whiskey gifts in our store. We find most guys (and in our case girls) have really fallen in love with it as their drink of preference, and hope you do too. Thanks for reading, and wish you the best at your whiskey party!