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Feb 21, 2011 12:11 PM

Strategy for spirits tasting event?

I am going to my first big spirits tasting event soon, and was wondering if anyone had any advice on a strategy for choosing what to taste. It is mostly scotch and cognac, so there is a temptation to go for the oldest and most expensive bottles (but I will try to resist that urge). Since I will be limited to trying a maximum of 10 bottlings, I am trying to figure out whether it makes more sense to try different expressions of the same label, or try a lot of different styles.

I am more of a cocktail drinker than straight whiskey, so was considering trying the absinthe that they have as well as El Dorado rum. I am also trying to figure out what order to try the different spirits in.

The list of spirits is here:
if anyone feels like pointing out any favorite bottles.

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  1. Whoa, that's some list! I think start with something I know and love like the Aberlour A'bunadh. then taste from there. I would avoid the Absynthe unless you like the stuff. The 21 Balvanie is lovely. Try and taste the higher end stuff you may not get access to. Since I know what Scotch I like,I'd make beeline to the Cognacs and armagnacs Sounds like a great event. Let us know how it goes.

    1. Definitely a second for the balvenie 21 yr old, Since you say you're not a straight whisky drinker I am guessing you wouldn't like the potent Islay scotches (the unpronounceable Ardbegs), though the 25 yr old Laphroaig should be mellowed enough to be approachable. Highland park 18 and 25 are ones I would not pass up. The Yamazaki 18 yr old is supposed to be wonderful, as is the Don Julio 1942 tequila.

      1. Great list! When I go to events like this, I look for products I haven't tasted before and am curious about or those which I simply could not normally afford to taste. Nothing wrong with going for the oldest and most expensive, that's one of the advantages of this type of format.

        In terms of tasting order, I wouldn't worry too much about it, except that I would do the absinthe last, as it is pretty much of a palate killer. Second to last would be heavily peated single malts (Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Octomore, etc.) as those also can stay with you for a while, particularly if you're not used to them.

        1. I coordinate and go to a lot of tastings. It's nice if you can decide upon a theme, to get the most impact, and educational value. Themes like Single malts of the same age from different regions. Or a vertical from the same producer. Mixing things can be confusing and overwhelming to the taste. Start with the youngest and work your way to the oldest. Or start with the mildest, and work your to the most full bodied.

          How many hours do you have? What types of spirits do you like? Since you have the list ahead of time, you can really come up with a plan. By the way, that is an overwhelming list of amazing products.

          The El Dorado's are good, but those Plantations are for the most part going to be fantastic. Ferrand Cognac has been sourcing and aging the Plantation rums and been doing an amazing job the past few years.

          Those Armagnacs and Calvados are worth tasting.

          PS, I just noticed the event has passed. What did you do?

          8 Replies
          1. re: JMF

            The event was great and I got to try a lot of amazing spirits. I had a list of the things I was most eager to try, although it was a bit scattershot. Not knowing much about Scotch, I tasted things in an order that didn't work out perfectly, as one of the first things I tried was some Highland Park 18 which turned out to be quite peaty. My palate was definitely dying by the end--when I tasted some Redbreast it tasted like water after the Scotches.

            Here were some of my favorites:
            Pierre Ferrand Cigare 25 Cognac had an intense, lingering sweet fruitiness
            Balvenie 15 Single Barrel had the most amazing honey, heather and herbs aroma (not sure which barrel this bottle was from)
            Highland Park 18 had a great range of flavors with a blast of peat smoke and long finish
            Ardbeg Uigeadail bowled me over with its smoke, BBQ, and ashy flavors

            I actually did enjoy the Plantation 1997 Panama 9 year much more than the El Dorado 21. I enjoyed the Calvados as well, and tried one of the Armagnacs I believe near the end.

            The only thing I was sad about was trying some of the more readily available Scotches when they had so many rarer ones. But since I am new to Scotch, I figured it made sense to start with some of the more standard bottles. Oh yeah, and they ran out of Balvenie 21 in 11 minutes according to the rep, so sadly I missed it.

            1. re: nickls

              I am a huge fan of the Plantation Panama. But unfortunately it has disappeared from shelves at all of the stores I frequent here in Massachusetts. Only the Barbados variety -- good in and of itself but not nearly as good as the Panama -- seems to be available at this point. I also liked the Trinidad quite a bit when it was available -- a fantastic mixing rum.

              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                The Panama was insane, the Nicaragua and Trinidad were very good as well. Both are long gone from stores. I just tried some of the new ones in the pipeline, won't mention them in detail yet, but the rum folks at Ferrand/Plantation are really sourcing, and additional aging, very well.

                1. re: davis_sq_pro

                  The tasting was sponsored in part by Federal Wine & Spirits on State St and they said they were selling all the bottles that were tasted if you ordered them at the event. I think it would be worth giving them a call if you are trying to track down some of the Plantation rums.

                  1. re: nickls

                    I'm happy to report that I picked up 3 bottles from them today. Should last me at least until the weekend :-)

                      1. re: JMF

                        Panama. Looking at the Plantation site now, I'm also really interested in the Grenada. Have never seen that anywhere -- will have to see if they can get some.

                        1. re: davis_sq_pro

                          If you have any questions for the Ferrand/Plantation guys, I'll be seeing them in the next week or two.