Entertaining, How To

How to Host a Whiskey-Tasting Party

I am reposting this how-to from earlier this year–the weather is finally cooling down and I can’t wait to have friends over to host this special sort of party!

When I lived in D.C. with a group of friends, we used to entertain a lot, and on the spur of the moment. Friends in town? Let’s have a dinner party. It’s cold outside? Movies and homemade hot chocolate. Christmas? A huge cocktail party for fifty people. It was a blast, and all were memorable occasions. However, one of my favorite parties I ever hosted was a whiskey-tasting party. It was a beyond freezing two weeks in D.C. (almost as bad as New York this Christmas…!) and instead of the usual round of entertaining, we’d all hunkered down in our own homes. This was in that post-holiday, pre-spring phase that is absolutely the worst time of year, in my opinion. I’d visited friends in Ireland a few months earlier and brought back a lot of whiskey, and I decided that I’d host a whiskey-tasting party with friends. It was a huge success and something I’m eager to bring back one of these days. At the time of the party, I wrote down a few notes on what worked particularly well. I’ve updated these slightly and am sharing them with you–I hope you find them useful, and please do extend an invitation if you decide to host your own!

To host your own whiskey-tasting party, here are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure everyone’s enjoyment.

A good selection of whiskey. Get a wide selection of the best you can find. While I personally prefer Irish whiskey, sometimes I do favor a good Scotch. Your guests’ tastes will vary, and it’s certainly better to have a wide variety rather than a small one. For my whiskey-tasting party, we had five varieties of scotch (Glencadam, Glendronach, Dalwhinnie, Sheep Dip, and Aberlour) and five of Irish whiskey (Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, Jameson, Knappogue Castle, and Redbreast).

Serving your whiskey. Experts recommend using only a drop or two of spring water to awaken the taste of the whiskey. Make sure to have a pitcher of fresh water, slightly chilled, handy. If your guests use ice, larger ice cubes are better (they don’t melt as quickly, thus not diluting the whiskey). Another way to serve chilled whiskey is to use frozen soapstone cubes to prevent dilution.

Food. Whiskey is (obviously) a potent spirit. Providing food (soda bread, cheese, crackers, etc.) gives you and your guests something to snack on while tasting whiskey, making sure no one overindulges unnecessarily. To complement the whiskies, we provided homemade wheaten bread, fresh Irish butter, smoked salmon, and a variety of cheeses (Stilton, Irish cheddar, Gouda, and Swiss).

A comfortable setting. Besides the obvious–enough seating, tables for drinks–adding some music to the party or other atmospheric touches, like a fire, certainly help to make for a memorable event. I love this album of Irish music in particular for a party like this.

Have fun! During our party, we ranked our favorite whiskies–the clear favorite ended up being Sheep Dip, surprisingly! We had a wonderful time and learned a lot about what we liked and what we didn’t. More than that, it was a unique and enjoyable way to beat the post-holiday doldrums.

I’ve always found whiskey to be the perfect remedy for a cold winter’s day, and when you combine it with good food and good friends, there’s very little better! There’s a very real reason why the Irish for whiskey–uisce beatha–translates to “the water of life.”

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