Besides mistletoe, one of the best things about the holidays is the holiday party. If you really want to spread some cheer, give your party a twist and make it a whiskey tasting.
This would be an intimate party — a dozen friends or less — so you can share the experience of walking through the whiskeys together.
As the host, you’ll want to take a few steps to set up a successful tasting, and here to guide us is Philip Lux, Lux Row Distillers ambassador and lead brand representative.
In cooking, they call this mise en place. You want to get everything organized, including your whiskey, glasses, and snacks. Then you need to determine how you’re going to serve it all.
Philip also suggests creating tasting sheets with circles marking each whiskey being sampled, as well as information on the whiskeys. Create note cards with basic facts about each one, including proof, style, and age.
“Presentation helps with the execution of the party, and it piques people’s interest,” he says. “If you offer notes, it helps you educate yourself [as well as your friends] on the bourbons.”
For best tasting results, four to five whiskeys are ideal to compare and contrast — more than that and you’ll experience palate fatigue. One bottle of each whiskey is plenty, because each taste will be an ounce or less. And having leftover whiskey is never a bad thing.
As aficionados know, Glencairn crystal is the classic glass for drinking whiskey. Those run about $30 a glass, so if money’s no object, then why not? But this is a holiday party, not a distillery. It’s perfectly okay to use whatever small glasses you have on hand.
Philip doesn’t even turn up his nose at small, clear plastic glasses. They may not be eco-friendly, but they do let you compare glass to glass.
You can go in many directions here. At Lux Row’s tasting room, they taste Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and David Nicholson Reserve — three emblematic whiskeys from their portfolio, each with a different proof (the percentage and strength of alcohol) and age.
You could also compare styles. Try tasting two wheated bourbons, such as David Nicholson 1843 and Rebel Yell Single Barrel Kentucky Straight, or ryes such as Ezra Brooks Straight Rye and Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye.
Or you could just delve into one label and do a side-by-side comparison of each whiskey in the line, starting with a lower-proof sipper such as Ezra Brooks Kentucky Sour Mash at 90 proof, ascending to the 117 proof Old Ezra, and closing on a sweet note with Ezra Brooks Bourbon Cream.
You could even settle on one revered whiskey and try it out in a variety of settings: straight, on ice, with a drop of water, and in a cocktail.
Snacks are a must. Not only will they enhance the tasting, but every good party has snacks.
Procure items both salty and sweet, Philip says
“At the tasting room, we offer chocolates, because chocolate and bourbon make such a good pairing,” Philip says. “We use both salted and dark chocolates, which bring out different notes.
“Surprisingly, Chex Mix is a big hit. We use Gardetto’s Snack Mix. It’s easy, it’s good, and everybody likes it.”
Last but not least, H2O.
“Always have a glass of water with your tasting,” Philip says. “You want to sip each time to clear your palate.”