How to Host a Bourbon Tasting Event for Friends

Written by Mark Pringle |
Published on:

Bourbon is to be enjoyed with friends. When you combine friendship with a bourbon tasting, the enjoyment of the event is kicked up a notch. However, what is the best way to host a bourbon tasting? What does a person need for a bourbon tasting? Are there resources available that will make organizing a bourbon tasting event more manageable? This article will address these questions and many more.

Resources for the Bourbon Tasting

Before hosting a bourbon tasting, ensure that you have all of the necessary items to make the event a success. The basic things you will need are 3 to 6 bourbons, a good environment, tasting scorecards and pens, shot glasses, and bourbon tasting wheels for the group.

The Bourbon 

This is the easy part. Select 3 to 6 bourbons for your friends to evaluate. Clearly, you do not have to supply all of the juice, but you can have the participants bring a bottle of their choosing. There are many ways to decide which bourbons you want to taste.

You can choose bourbons by proof level, type of whiskey (rye, bourbon, wheated, etc.), or some other criteria of your choosing. Please keep in mind that if you choose bourbons of drastically different proof levels, that will impact the tasting of the lower proof bourbons.

A Good Environment

It is good to have a comfortable environment that allows easy communication among friends when hosting a bourbon tasting. Someplace as simple as a kitchen or dining room table can suffice. Just make sure that the area is well lit and there is enough room.

The Scorecard

Bourbon/Whiskey Blind Tasting Challenge - Etsy

The scorecard should allow the participants to rate the bourbon's appearance, aroma, taste, and finish. It is good to provide a scorecard that has aroma and taste categories. This will provide participants a starting point for evaluating the bourbon.

The Glasses

The type of glass you choose may depend on how many participants are in the tasting. For example, if you have a tasting that includes six people, it may be challenging to provide 36 Glencairn glasses. A good option is to buy clear plastic shot glasses from a dollar store. You can purchase up to 50 shot glasses that will work adequately for the tasting for a few dollars.

The Tasting Wheel

The American Bourbon Association Bourbon Tasting Wheel

Provide tasting wheels. These give the participants detailed options for the aroma and taste of the whiskey. All of your friends may not be seasoned bourbon enthusiasts, so it’s good to provide tasting wheels with these helpful options. There are many free options online.

A Host

You will need to designate one person as the host. Unfortunately, the host does not participate in the official tasting. It is their responsibility to administer the contest.

The Host's Responsibilities

Assume you are hosting a blind taste testing that includes six bourbons and six participants. In a guarded location, out of sight of the participants, the host will:

  1. Label the bottle of bourbons one through six. The participants should never see what the bottles are labeled. 
  2. Label six sets of shot glasses 1 through 6 for the six bourbons. The numbers on the glasses correspond to the numbers on the bottles.
  3. Pour a half-ounce of bourbon into the bottle labeled 1 for each of the participants. Pour a half-ounce of bourbon into the bottle labeled 2 for each of the participants. Follow this pattern for each bottle and participant.
  4. The host will then distribute the labeled six glasses of bourbon to each participant, placing bourbon #1 on the #1 spot of the tasting card and then placing #2 bourbon on the #2 spot of the tasting card, and so forth. Some hosts will pour one bottle and then distribute only that pour, waiting for participants to taste before pouring the next bottle. However, this can be frustrating for those who evaluate faster and have their own pattern of tasting. We recommend distributing all of the bourbons in the same sitting. 
  5. The host or someone designated by the host will educate the participants about tasting and evaluating bourbon before the actual tasting begins. This is good to do when your tasting involves friends who are not bourbon enthusiasts. There is a specific way to taste bourbon so that you enjoy it.

The Participants: What to do During the Tasting

After the host has completed their initial prep work, the participants can begin the tasting.

If your tasting involves bourbons with a wide proof range, it is best to taste the lower proof bourbons first and work your way up to the higher proof bourbons.

At the very least, participants should give a single overall rating using a scoring system determined by the host. A scoring system might be set up as follows:

  • a, b, c, d, e
  • 1 through 5
  • 1 through 100

If your tasting involves only bourbon enthusiasts, they should rate the appearance, aroma, taste, finish, and provide an overall rating.

The participants will then rank the glasses one through six on their scorecards. Continue the tasting until all samples have been tried and rated.

Determining The Winners

After the participants have finished tasting and ranking the bourbons, the host will reveal one bottle at a time, bottles one through six, and each participant will tell how they ranked that bourbon.

The host will document and average the results and then determine the overall bourbon winner and rankings.

Final Thoughts

The point of a tasting with friends is to have a good time. Don't be too strict on the tasting requirements unless you host a tasting for seasoned bourbon enthusiasts. Have fun and enjoy your friends. 

Author: Mark Pringle
Smell IS taste. I am just a guy who has been hit with the bourbon bug and who has come to the conclusion that life is too short to drink average tasting bourbons. Go Gators!
My External Website (External Website Opens in New Window)


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