As a 30-something who writes about food and drink for a living, the following declaration will surprise nobody, but here goes: I love a good dinner party. I spend a lot of time in bars and restaurants for work, so when I’m relaxing—like, really relaxing, not working in a place where other people go to relax—I prefer to spend time at home (or other people’s homes!), and I especially love to host dinner parties.
Dinner parties offer a wonderful setting to share a special whiskey, but unless you’re hosting your local whiskey club, it’s probably not the right moment to bust out something super-nerdy or rare. You want something that will appeal to everybody, avid spirits fans and neophytes alike, and that’s fancy enough to feel special but not so fancy that you cringe as your college friend’s new spouse free-pours three ounces into an unwashed wine glass, traces of Syrah still clinging to its sides.
Here are my time-tested, proven suggestions for crowd-pleasing whiskeys to plunk down on the table after the plates are cleared and before the babysitters need to be relieved.
Oban 14-Year-Old is quickly climbing the ranks of my favorite all-purpose single malts. It’s the best of both worlds. It has high-toned peat and opulent, vanilla-soaked oak. It’s rich yet nuanced, sweet yet smoky, and interesting without being in the least bit challenging. It also pairs beautifully with chocolate – just saying.
George Dickel Barrel Select
This small batch release from George Dickel is aged between 10 and 12 years, right in the sweet spot for American whiskey. Balanced, mellow, and with that signature George Dickel minerality, this is a lovely bottle to share with friends who might not know just how delicious Dickel can be.
Everybody loves bourbon, but not everybody loves the 120+ proof cask strength stuff that’s so popular these days. Basil Hayden’s is a gentler whiskey from Jim Beam that still manages to hang on to all those fruity, spicy characteristics that make American whiskey so enjoyable. Plus, it comes wearing a fun little paper vest.
I cringe from the word “smooth” used to describe whiskey—what does such a thing mean? Has anybody ever tasted a gritty whiskey?—but once in a while, the adjective does come to mind. Redbreast 12-Year-Old is silky, sweet, supple, and downright seductive, a seamless homage to the mellow flavors of malted barley and integrated oak. I won’t call it “smooth,” but your guests almost certainly will.
Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...