Monday, January 23, 2012

Finally - a Whisky Tasting

I love a good whisky tasting.  It's a great way to get introduced to a lot of new whiskies in one night.  It's also a good excuse to hang out with the guys for a while.  I've been to a few tastings in the last five years and learned a ton.  So, last Saturday, when I hosted my first whisky tasting, it was like Christmas Morning for me.  I pulled a couple of key elements together and was ready to go:
  • Invitation list: for this tasting, I basically invited the local friends that I knew enjoyed some type of whisky, bourbon, or even a beer.  I asked everyone to bring a bottle of whisky or bourbon, if they had one.
  • Whisky: I emptied my cabinet, save a couple of airplane bottles.  I organized the whiskies into different regions, along with bourbon, Canadian, Japanese and Welsh.  My six-year old daughter provided the labels for the regions.

  • Ground rules: I kept this one pretty open ended.  This was not like a wine tasting where everyone goes in some predetermined order and takes notes on tannins and oakiness.  It was basically, "see whisky, try whisky".  That's not to say people didn't have opinions about the whisky, or didn't consider the regions when trying different expressions, but I tried to keep it pretty light. If people had questions, I tried to help.  I also had some whisky guides out to help (thank you Michael Jackson).
The results?  Well let me first say, I was the host, I wasn't driving and everyone asked me to try the whisky they brought.  So I had a bit of a headache the next morning.  Besides that, however, I think a lot of people had their eyes open to some new things. 
  • The international section (Welsh Penderyn and Japanese Yamazki) surprised a lot of people not only with the quality, but also with the fact that it existed at all.
  • Bourbon is back.  The 1792, Old Van Winkle, and a new one - Bulleit - were all so well received that the Blantons was not even cracked.  Seriously, if you like Bourbon, check out Bulleit Frontier Whisky. Excellent.
  • I think I mentioned Crown Royal as one of the whiskies to drink on a golf course (it comes with a bag to keep your keys in!).  I'm going to go ahead and upgrade that recommendation to Crown Royal Black Label.
  • Caol Ila - One of the less popular Islay whiskies, Coal Ila is known for it's more subtle peating and its oily finish.  I hadn't had a bottle in the house for a few years, and I didn't realize how much I missed it.
  • Winners.  At the end of the night, there had to be a winner - so we voted for our favorite whiskies.  The winner was a Macallan 15 Year Old Fine Oak expression.  It really surprised me how much I enjoyed this.  I've passed Macallan in the shop without stopping for so long, and I'm kicking myself for it.  Second place was a tie between Highland Park 15 and the Bulleit.
All in all, I think it was a successful first tasting.  Everyone learned something, tried something knew, and seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves.  And they didn't drink all of my whisky either!


  1. Swanny - I discovered Bulleit while living in Phoenix ... a buddy of mine and I used it exclusively for our "Manhattan" nights. Incredible value.

  2. Good call. I think it would be excellent for that.