Conducting a Bourbon Tasting
I'm conducting my first tasting next week -- a fund raiser for the men's auxiliary of a woman's charity. I have selected for the tasting the standard Evan Williams, Elijah Craig 12 yr, a Four Roses Single Barrel exclusive to an area liquor store, Maker's Mark and Old Weller Antique. I also have a 375 ml bottle of Buffalo Trace White Dog which I will make available to anyone who wants to taste it. We are expecting 20 men or so so one bottle of each should be enough.
I am trying to figure out the order of the tasting. It won't be a blind tasting because most of the guys coming are not bourbon drinkers and I want to show them the differences in taste of various mashbills and ages.
My thoughts right now are Evan, Elijah, and Four Roses (essentially ascending order of cost and presumed quality), then Maker's and Weller (two wheated bourbons, I personally think the Weller is superior albeit about 1/3 less expensive). The question is when to offer the white dog -- I could offer it at the beginning to show how much the barrel changes the spirit, but I think most of those present won't care for it and it could throw off their palates. For similar reasons I don't want the white dog to be the last taste either. Maybe offer it between the three rye bourbons and the two wheaters.
I welcome your thoughts on the lineup and order as well as suggestions for changing it around. These are definitely the bourbons we will taste, however, since they have been purchased already and are happily at rest in my trunk at the moment.
Good selection, and I think your order is fine. If it were me, I would probably go Evan, Maker's, Elijah, Weller, Four Roses. The Weller (assuming it's the 107) and Four Roses are higher proofs, and putting them earlier could throw off palates. If you are intent on separating wheat and rye, I would probably put the wheaters first as they tend to be a bit more subtle.
I would put the white dog in the very beginning, but I think you could put it anywhere. It's so different that it is not likely to impact anyone's palate. It's too bad you don't have an aged BT to compare it too.
I would go with what sku said, including the white dog first. Just have water available at all times during the tasting to cleanse the palate, maybe even some bread. I lead tastings all the time, both of my products, and of commercial products. If I have an unaged version I ALWAYS put it up front so that people can see what the barrel aging actually does. Otherwise, I would also get the Buffalo Trace whiskey that is the aged version of the white dog, and serve them at the end for a comparison.
To quote sku in a very well written article from last May, "The Buffalo Trace white dog is made from their Mash #1, a low rye Bourbon mash which is the same grain combination used in Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, and the legendary George T. Stagg Bourbon."
Here's sku's article:
We had the tasting last night and it was a lot of fun. Many of the attendees were not bourbon drinkers or drinkers at all -- it's a Jewish men's group and a lot of the folks came just to support the charity. Before the tasting I did a slide show and introduction to bourbon -- my wife (a Kentucky native) and I finished the Bourbon Trail last summer.
We did start with the white dog which only about half of the guys were willing to try, and then went in ascending order of proof. The guys were able to appreciate the real differences between the different bourbons and especially the difference between Evan and Elijah which to my knowledge is the same whiskey at different ages.
Everyone poured for themselves; there were about 20 guys and we had almost a half of each bottle left. Interestingly the bourbon that many of those in attendance enjoyed least -- and which had the most left in the bottle, almost three quarters -- was the Four Roses Single Barrel, which I attribute to its high rye content and lack of sweetness.
Besides the five bourbons I mentioned in my original post the folks at Heaven Hill were kind enough to donate and Fed Ex us two bottles of Parker's Heritage 4th edition, the barrel-strength ten year old wheated bourbon. One bottle was sold for the cause and the second was added to the tasting, but by the time we got to it a lot of guys' taste buds were shot from all the previous tastings. Since I was the lucky purchaser of the second bottle I am looking forward to getting to know it better -- as well as all the leftovers, since we will enjoy them after synagogue services the next several Saturday mornings.
While I did distribute score sheets we did not collect them after. My impression is that those attendees who are whiskey drinkers liked the Elijah Craig 12 the best, and those who are not liked the Maker's Mark the best. I am discounting the Parker's Heritage because it didn't really get a fair shot.