How to Host a Bourbon Tasting Party

The Art of Tasting Bourbon

You might think that a bourbon tasting party would be a more casual, less pretentious version of a wine tasting, with all of its swirling, sniffing and sipping. And you might be right on some counts -- you probably couldn't get away with a redneck theme or serve barbecue at a wine tasting. But there are rules to bourbon tasting, and following them will really bring out the best in the bourbon.

  • The bourbon should be served straight -- no mixers or fancy cocktails. A little filtered water or ice is the only acceptable addition.
  • Just like wine, you should sniff the bourbon before tasting it. But you'll want to sniff with your mouth open -- this allows you to "smell" with your nose and mouth at the same time. Otherwise, the alcohol will burn your nose.
  • The actual sip is a slightly awkward move known as the "Kentucky Chew." You swish the bourbon around in your mouth while sucking in air and gargling a bit. No spitting, though; go ahead and swallow!
  • It's always a fun idea to provide a tasting glossary. As your guests are "chewing," they can think about the different flavors and notes they might be experiencing, which can include anything from the obvious (oak, smoke and rye) to the unexpected (peppermint, eucalyptus and tangerine).
  • Provide paper or notebooks for guests to jot down tasting notes, and don't be shy about discussion and conversation.

Don't worry about not having perfect form as you get the hang of these tasting techniques -- it's a learning experience for everyone. Above all, have fun with it!