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Plenty of blended Scotch can be enjoyed casually, whether on the rocks or in cocktails. Some well-to-do heretics might even use particular single malts for highballs, but there are certain whiskies that must be reserved for enjoying in their purest forms. Here's how to host your own at-home tasting.
When amassing a selection of Scotch whisky to taste for the evening, a host can go one of two ways: offer a crowd-pleasing variety from each of Scotland's five whisky-producing regions (including Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Campbeltown and highly peated Islay whiskies), or provide different age expressions or products from the same distillery for comparison's sake. Either way, stick with single malt Scotch (i.e. liquid distilled from a malted barley mash at a single distillery) and limit the flight to six to eight whiskies in total.
Obtain Proper Glassware
No one wants to drink elegant, expensive Scotch out of a glass boot or a plastic sippy cup. Not only does proper glassware look worthy of the precious liquid it contains, it will also serve the important function of allowing for aeration and optimal delivery to your nose and mouth. You can give these beverages the respect they deserve with a rocks glass, a tumbler or even a shot glass—but perhaps the perfect vessel is the Glencairn glass, the shape of which will maximize the aroma, taste and sight of your finest drams.
Invite the Right Crowd
Extensive whisky drinking experience is anything but a requirement—much of the fun will be comparing notes with those who have a fresh, uninformed perspective. But those who attend your gathering should be willing to at least attempt to savor the nuanced aromas and flavors of each beverage, not toss them back like pledging frat bros.
Lose the Ice
A few drops of filtered water can help expand the flavor profile of any fine whisky after the first sip, but I'll take the controversial stance of altogether banning ice cubes. The type of high-end stuff you and your guests will be trying is best served neat—without the presence of any other ingredient but the liquid itself—so as to best understand the expression of the spirit.
You're not being cheap—pouring very small samples (about half an ounce or so) will actually allow you to offer your guests more variety, without sending them to their graves. After all, no mortal can down half a dozen full pours and still taste with the same accuracy or consideration as his or her sober self. Down eight or more ounces of 90-proof liquor and the only distinguishable flavor characteristic of any subsequent whisky sample will be "whisky-like."
Considering the amount of booze that will be consumed at your gathering, snacks are as important as pour size in keeping your guests alive. Food can coat the stomach to help prevent acid reflux and will slow down the processing of alcohol. Plus, certain food items (such as plain crackers or lemon sorbet) can act as palate cleansers, while others can enhance the flavors of the liquid. Chocolate, cheese and fruit are all dependable fixings for whisky pairings.
Talk About It
Perhaps the most important step of all for this tasting is to engage in lively discussion. What do you and your guests like about each whisky? Dislike? Any surprises, whether good or bad? By verbalizing your experience, you'll be making meaningful memories with your friends (both human and liquid). Use your unbearable geekiness to torture any teetotaler who might have stumbled into the tasting by accident via a friend or significant other. Then thank them for leaving behind more treats for the whisky nerds.
Provide Late Night Refreshments
After completing the main event, your guests may (hopefully) linger and want to continue the party. For such a scenario, be sure to have a few bottles of more modest (i.e. cheaper) whisky on hand. At this point in the night, your inebriated guests won't be able to tell the difference between your exquisite $300 bottle of Glenlivet XXV and a can of gasoline. Save the good stuff for your next proper tasting, when all of your faculties have fully returned.
Until then, Slàinte!