For Dad's birthday a couple weekends ago, we had a bourbon tasting at my parents' house. None of us claim to be experts, but we thought it would be fun...and it certainly was!
First, let me set the scene: We used these printable placemats to keep track of the samples (my mom and sister poured blind samples for the guys and me) and these score sheets to keep track of our impressions of each one. This part was so much fun!
Each of us has a very different drinking style, so it cracked me up to see everyone going through the sniff-swirl-sip motions. James is typically a shot-taker, Dad puts a splash of bourbon in his large glass of water, my brother-in-law Bo is a Bud Light guy, and I'm....well, I'm mostly a mint juelp kind of girl. James and Bo were actually really good and picking out subtle scents and flavors (most of James's descriptions sounded very similar to the bourbons' website descriptions!) but Dad and I were less advanced. Dad can't smell at all, so we didn't expect much from him anyway. :) We used this flavor wheel for reference. I also set out a bowl of whiskey stones (which Dad thought was a snack and almost tried to eat!) and straws for adding drops of water to our samples.
I did do a little bit of reading on proper bourbon tasting before our venture, but we mostly just had a good time with it. I put together a platter of snacks intended to bring out specific flavors in the bourbons, but they weren't necessarily treated that way! We included dark chocolate, fresh orange wedges, dried cherries, pecans, aged Parmesan, and sorghum on water crackers.
Next, the samples: We tasted Basil Hayden's, Knob Creek, Maker's Mark 46, Jim Beam, Old Granddad (ha!), Bulleit, Wild Turkey, and Elijah Craig. We started out with a bottle of Zachariah Harris to get a $7.50-per-fifth sample in there, but Dad had finished it off in the weeks leading up to our tasting. :)
The results: I have to say that my scores definitely did not turn out they way I expected. I included the Elijah Craig in the tasting because I had heard so many good things about it and had never tasted it, so I totally expected it to end up at the top of my list (which it wasn't). We usually keep Bulleit, Wild Turkey, and Knob Creek on hand, so I also expected to have those near the top of my list...but they weren't, either. In the end, three of the four of us chose the same favorite: Maker's Mark 46.
The final verdict: If you're interested in doing a legitimate bourbon tasting, there are plenty of good websites out there with great tips. If you're interested in planning a fun night with friends, I would totally suggest a bourbon tasting anyway! We didn't take it overly seriously, had a blast, and now I definitely know what bourbon I'll be buying in the future!