A Beginner's Guide to Whiskey Tasting
If you were to find me at a bar a mere 2-3 years ago, I would've proudly imbibing a fruity or bubbly cocktail as my libation of choice. Alternatively, if you were to ask me around the same time if I would find myself host a whiskey tasting - I would have been slightly bewildered as well.
Fast forward to the present, as most things in life do get better with age, I've inevitably discovered the magical soothing powers of a nicely-aged glass of whiskey neat and over ice. What's even more surprising is hosting an intimate whiskey tasting with Bulleit at Stage + Table - only to have 50+ awesome friends show up to turn it up real good.
Whiskey 101 | An Introduction
Do you like your whiskey neat, over ice or mixed in with a cocktail? These are common questions you'd encounter when ordering whiskey. Taste is very subjective; there is no winning combination. And certainly no room for judgement here. My rule of thumb is to always stick with your preferences but keep an open mind and experiment whenever you can to cultivate your palette. For a first time tasting, the best way to proceed is neat. Thankfully, we had Gerry Graham, a whiskey master, from Bulleit to guide us through this process:
3 Types of Bulleit Whiskey
Typically, bourbon is made 51% corn, aged in new charred white oak barrels, and must be bottled at at least 80 proof (40% alcohol). They are then aged for four years or more and well known for its sweet caramel and vanilla flavors, and darker, reddish color. Bulleit’s bourbon doesn’t deviate too much from this standard definition - its tasting profile is a medium amber in color, with gentle spiciness and sweet oak aromas. Smooth notes of maple, oak, and nutmeg. Finish is long, dry and satiny with a light toffee flavor. It’s very versatile and goes great in a mint julep or bourbon swizzle.
Bulleit’s signature 10 year old bourbon exhibits more of the following tasting notes: smooth with a touch of vanilla, dried fruit and long smoky finish. It goes incredibly well over the rocks! Always keep this in mind though - not all bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbon.
This is similar to bourbon in terms of flavor profile, but must be made with 51 percent rye mash and then aged in new charred oak barrels. It is a russet in color with rich oaky aromas. The taste is silky smooth as it hits your tongue, with hints of vanilla, honey, and spice. I am particularly in love with the crisp and clean finish with long, lingering flavors. My choice of rye whiskey drinks is either an Old-Fashioned or Manhattan.
Finding The Right Venue
In the process of putting this whiskey tasting together, we went through several venue changes. Stage + Table hit all the right notes for us, because it has 1) a spacious dining area, 2) intimate spaces throughout, namely the rooftop patio and gentlemen’s den, 3) a large kitchen to accommodate our caterers to come through with food to pair with the whiskey.
For smaller scale tastings, you may want to consider carving out a section of your home or apartment to create an ambient atmosphere for a worthwhile whiskey tasting session with friends and family. Or even find a local cigar joint that will allow you to BYOW (Bring Your Own Whiskey).
Curating a Guest List
Whiskey tastings are intimate affairs. I personally invited and curated a list of my closest friends in the creative, media and tech industry to come together and mingle over whiskey. It’s helpful to keep the circles closely knitted while interesting, to create immersion and engagement at the same time. I could not be more thankful that all 50 of them showed up with their plus ones in such a cozy venue - this tasting guide would not have happened if it weren’t for them!