It may surprise some to know that whiskey is now outselling vodka in the US to take the top spot in leading liquor sales. That growing interest is also leading to more creative thinking in the hospitality industry.

Experience a Whiskey Tasting:

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Americans have a growing thirst and appetite for micro distilleries that specialize in producing whiskey. And Kentucky bourbon is the most popular US fermented grain mash. But the UK is home to scotch (as it is commonly referred to in the US) whisky (as they spell it in England and Scotland). Where better to learn how to plan a whiskey master class than in Britain?

I recently received my whiskey tasting experience in London from the folks at the Hilton Metropole Whisky LoungeSo, if you’re considering a whiskey tasting or master class, consider these insights.

Where to Host a Whiskey Tasting

First, you need to find the right place to host your event. If it’s within reason, an actual distillery is a great choice. They’re authentic and scenic. However, whiskey distilleries tend to be located far from hotels and large urban areas where business travelers and conventions reside.

Your next choice? Whiskey lounges and bars — often located in hotels — are your best options. And their whiskey experts and catering directors make a powerful team. Some of them are creating unique whiskey tastings and pairings that will make for a memorable night.

After you’ve picked your location, each tasting needs to consider the unique preferences of the guests who attend. “It is important to understand the needs and tastes of the audience,” says Eszter Gyory, EDG bar and whiskey supervisor at the Hilton Metropole.

Eszter suggests that hosts and planners should know if their guests prefer whiskey bourbon or scotch whiskey, and whether they’re experienced or novice whiskey drinkers. The answers to these questions will create a more desirable event.

Hire a Whiskey Expert

Everyone loves a storyteller, and that’s an important part of the experience. Your whiskey expert should have a solid foundation in the history of distilling and what differentiates one whiskey from the next. He or she also needs to be comfortable explaining this to a beginner audience.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a private club with three locations in the UK (and elsewhere around the world). Members have access to their private rooms, but it also gives them access to buy whisky bottled by the Society.

Equally important is that their experts are also available to help organize private workshops and whiskey tasting events in the capital. Sam McDonald, venue manager for the Society’s London location, has organized events for several guests to thousands of attendees.

How to Taste Whiskey

Whiskey tasting includes sight, smell and taste. The barrel cask actually determines the color of the whiskey, not the ingredients or maturity. All whiskey begins as a clear color and gains its complexion during the aging process.

First, whiskey should be served in a snifter (usually a short glass that’s narrow at the top and wide at the bottom). As you swirl the whiskey around – which allows the whiskey to breathe a little, you will notice that there are legs that fall on the side of the glass. If the legs fall slower, they will signify a thicker taste.

Next, you should smell the whiskey to get the full sense and range of flavors. Gyory mentioned that gaining this sense of smell will result in a fuller whiskey taste. Go ahead and give it a couple sniffs. That will help you to possibly recognize what you’ll expect to taste.

Now you’re ready to take a small sip, just enough to whet the palate. If you’d like, go ahead and add just a bit of water, which will bring out the full taste of the whiskey.

Insider Tip: At a whiskey tasting in the UK, do not request scotch on the rocks. You will surely receive some strange looks – not only for the reference of Scotch, but also because it’s not meant to be served on the rocks!

Whiskey Flights

Your whiskey tasting will be presented in flights of three to five different whiskeys based on a theme.

Gyory suggests that event planners should ensure there is a logical progression to the tasting selection. For example, a Scotch tasting should begin with a Lowlands or Speyside Scotch, which are generally lighter tasting and end with an Islay, which is smoky, and peccary.

Suggested Whiskey Tastings

The Hilton Metropole Whiskey Lounge is a perfect event space for a whiskey tasting. It has a main bar can that can hold up to 50 guests seated. They also have an inventory of more than 80 varieties of scotch single malt, blended and international whiskies. Gyory works with meeting and event planners to plan tastings and workshops. During my visit, I sampled two different flight tastings (someone has to do it):

Scotch Whiskey Flight:

  • Singleton 12 year Single Malt – a Speyside whiskey that has a sweeter and lighter taste.
  • Dalmore 12 year Single Malt – a dark Highlands whiskey that tastes fruity and sweet but much deeper than the Speysides.
  • Auchentoshen 12 year Single Malt – a lighter colored Highlands whiskey that tastes of barley and vanilla flavors.
  • Lagavulin 16 year Single Malt – an Islay which tastes of pete and smoky (this was my favorite of the Scotches in the tour).
  • Talisker 10 year Single Malt – an Island whisky (the region of islands not including Islay) that also gives a petey and roasty taste to the pallet.

International Whiskey Tour:

  • Yamazaki 12 year Single Malt – a Japanese full-bodied whiskey that recently won an international whiskey competition for its light pete taste.
  • Amrut Single Barrel – one of India’s few distilleries that combines an oaky taste with a scent of American Bourbon.
  • English Whiskey Chapter 6 – this is a strong and bitter whiskey that is one England’s most popular distilleries.
  • Penderyn Single Malt – this Welsh whiskey almost has the sweetness of a full-bodied liquor (very unique).
  • Kavalan Single Malt – a Taiwanese whiskey with a fruity taste that is a nice finish to the tasting.

Whiskey Tastings Are a Unique Special Event

Whiskey is a very unique and complex spirit – it could have different smells, tastes and complexities. Tastings are interactive, and they’re a relatively easy event to host because of the accessibility of options. Plus, a whiskey tasting actually has much more about your senses other than taste.

People already enjoy the experience of attending wine tasting and beer tasting events. It just makes sense that we should really get to know whiskey, too.