Kjolstad wrote: Do you have a new glass for each whisky? How many whiskies is it usual to taste in one tasting? Do you do blind tastings? How many people is it ideal to invite? How often? Do you serve food?
Kjolstad: Sorry for the long posting, but it's a good guide for you to follow.
Based on our experiences in setting up tasting groups in the past, here are the basics which you will require:
1.Whiskies: Select 5-6 whiskies for the tasting. These can be either a planned selection where each attendee brings a specified different whisky or unplanned, with everyone bringing a favorite or something they want to try.
2. Glassware: Have one clean glass for each whisky per person. These can be a tasting copita, an actual whisky tasting glass, or a small wine glass.
3. Water: Have a large tumbler of water for each person and a water pitcher available to fill up the glasses over the course of the tasting. The water can be used for adding a bit to the dram to open the nose as well as for cleansing the palate before the next sample.
4. Sequencing: When setting up the tasting, it would be a good idea to start with a lighter whisky,(ie: a lowland the likes of St. Magdalene) and work through the medium weights (Speysides, Highlands) to the more pronounced whiskies ( Islays like Laphroaig or Lagavulin). To keep track of the samples, a tasting mat with the names of the whiskies set in the tasting sequence, (right to left, front 3 then back 3). To cut down on spillage, I put the tasting mat into a plastic sheet protector.
5. Notes: Prepare a blank tasting notes sheet and a pen or pencil for each attendee.* There are examples on several of the distillery websites as well as in some whisky books. Phillip Hills' Appreciating Whisky
has a fairly comprehensive example. Here’s a forum posting that deals with books and some advice: http://www.whiskymag.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5838
6. Preparation: Do a bit of homework on the whiskies to be sampled, information on how whisky is made, where the whiskies are distilled and what flavours they should be looking for. You would present this information in a relaxed introduction before anyone starts into the samples. It would be a good idea to talk the group through the first sample explaining nosing, tasting and adding water.
6. Set up: Before the group arrives, the tasting mats, blank notes & pencils, tasting glassware, water tumblers and water pitchers should be set up in advance.
7. Samples: Pre-pour the whisky into each glass filling sample # 1 glasses, rinsing the measure out, then pour the sample # 2 glasses and so on. I would recommend using a tablespoon measure as this ensures that the attendees get a decent sample to nose and taste but don’t get too tipsy too soon. Cover the glasses with at least a sheet of paper once the glasses are charged. If you have watch-glasses (pocket watch face glass) that cover the mouth of the glass, they are ideal.
8. Very important:
If people are going to go home after the tasting, arrange a designated driver
9. The Tasting: As your guests arrive, offer them a welcoming dram to sit and enjoy while they wait for everyone to arrive. Casually move everyone to the set up table(s) and after seating them, give a short talk (say 3 minutes) of introduction and explain the basics as well as how to fill in their personal notes. Demonstrate how nosing and tasting is done and then let them discover and talk about the various flavours and aromas they sense, one sample at a time as a group. Keep the atmosphere relaxed and allow people to say what they think they are experiencing and make their notes. As for the note taking, they get sketchier as the night goes on.
You may wish to only sample your dram slightly or, as the host, not drink at all. Personally, I choose to dram with the group.
10. A light snack at the half way point is a good idea for people to get up, chat and sample some crackers, cheese, bread, cold cuts or heated terriaki or honey garlic wings – (not hot wings, they “nuke” the taste buds).
These are the basics for a tasting.
*If you want to put more effort into the tasting notes you can also prepare a set of handouts with:
i) maps of the whisky distillery locations,
ii) a diagram which sets out how whisky is made
iii) a profile of each whisky with tasting notes included (cheat sheets)
iv) some information on nosing and tasting for reference during the tasting.
v) a listing of the various scents and flavours that may be present in the whiskies.
I prepare a copy for each person and put in in a folder for them to refer to and take home with them. Good luck! MP