I have my bourbon drinking friends, and the rest of my friends. So, recently, I hosted a happy hour for mostly the “rest of my friends” and served nothing but bourbon. Neat. Luckily, they were an adventurous group, but many vehemently disclaimed upon entering the soiree, “I don’t drink bourbon.” What got everyone tasting and many converting to bourbon lovers was the structure of the event as a blind tasting competition with prizes. The over achievers bit like carp on a dough ball.
I selected 3 bourbons, each of which represented one of the common types of bourbon, and all in about the $25-30 range: (1) rye heavy mash bill (Bulleit); (2) wheat heavy mash bill (Larceny); and (3) traditional mash bill (Knob Creek). The mash bill is the combination of grains used to produce bourbon. To be bourbon, there must be at least 51% corn, but what makes up the remaining 49% of the grains is up to the distiller. Typically, there is a combination of rye, wheat and barley. And of course, corn can be in the remaining part, too.
For the tasting, I covered the bottles in paper bags and numbered them. Then I passed out tasting cards which allowed guests to note their impressions of the bourbons. I gave some hints as to what each type of bourbon would taste like. Wheated bourbons are typically smoother and sweeter. Rye heavy bourbons are all about the bite and the spice. And traditional are somewhere in between. That is a gross generalization that will make the experts on bourbon jump up and down and scream, but I was dealing with novices, okay? I also gave everyone a taste of a straight rye to compare.
Out of 20 tasters, 3 accurately guessed the mash bills and 3 got none of them right. And I don’t recall anyone hating the experience. In fact, several people commented that it was their first time they enjoyed bourbon. The best part of the night was that people made new friends, talked about bourbon and more, and did it in a safe non-judgey environment.
Host your own tasting party. You can try different mash bills, or maybe the same bourbon, but different ages. Or try rums from different islands. Or different types of gin. Or compare bourbon to scotch to Irish whisky. But the bottom line is have fun.