How to Do A Virtual Whiskey Tasting

These days, whiskey brands have gotten creative with virtual offerings as a way to reach new customers while travel slowly recovers. Luckily for Whiskey Wash readers, we have all the information you’ll need to organize your own tasting and more. To navigate these waters, we tapped Sam Montgomery, the National Brand Ambassador for Bardstown Bourbon Company. She got into the whiskey industry by bartending for many years prior and has always nurtured a love for the good stuff. 

For whiskey fans to set up an ideal virtual tasting at home, Montgomery recommends a few things. First up, water is helpful to have on hand to cleanse the palate and stay hydrated. She also suggests a preferred tasting glass, like a Glencairn. On the optimal glass, Sam shared, “The shape is everything! It’s widest part allows enough surface area to release all the aromas and the tulip-like top helps bring those aromas forward. It’s biggest advantage is providing a great nose. The nose can often say a lot more about a whiskey than the flavor. It’s also our first impression before it even touches our lips so we want that to be a good experience! Anything that’s too big such as a big red wine glass is not preferable [as] the size and shape won’t give you much on the nose except a suffocating smell of alcohol typically.”

Montgomery continued, sharing that “It’s helpful to pre-pour your samples about 20 [minutes] prior to the event as well. This will let the more volatile alcohols dissipate and the sample will be easier to smell and taste without getting ‘attacked’ by the alcohol.” 

Another key factor for a good at home tasting is being able to cleanse the palate between sips by choosing proper food and snack pairings. Sam explained “I think the pairing should be as neutral as possible if you are trying to just cleanse your palate between tastings. Unsalted crackers are a solid option.”

Bardstown virtual tasting

A tasting for a new bourbon held for Bardstown staff (image via Bardstown Bourbon)

Cleaning the palate doesn’t just mean taste buds. What most people don’t realize is that your nose can get overwhelmed as well. “Lots of people use coffee beans to neutralize their nose but I think the best technique is putting your nose right into the crevice of your elbow and breathing in your natural scent” explained the bartender. 

If readers want to set up a tasting at home for themselves and/or friends, the beverage pro suggests zeroing in on one spirit category and one specific variable to compare – age, proof, producer – and try to keep everything else as similar as possible. “For example if you wanted to take the bourbon category and really compare age statements I would look for 3-4 bourbons with similar proofs and unique age statements and then line them up from youngest to oldest.”

She continued, “There are a million different ways you can do a tasting. If you put some thought into it at all, you’re going to walk away learning something new, I promise.”  

Sam explained that as far as a general flow or order for whiskey tastings, the organizer will generally take care of that. As an example of format, the Bardstown standard virtal tasting takes participants through four samples in a planned sequence. “The sequence of the samples provides an experience that shows the process of how we end up with what we put in the bottle and sell. The first sample is a distillate – what comes straight off the still. The second sample is a maturate (a sample straight from the barrel) of that same recipe as the distillate so that the participant can really experience the maturation process. The third sample is our Fusion series which is a blend featuring that same recipe as the distillate and maturate so that the participant can isolate its characters in a blend and taste our flagship product. The final sample is one of our Discovery series, one of our ultra-premium products and much harder to find on the shelves,” said Montgomery.

She explained that generally these tastings last 30-40 minutes, with a question and answer period to follow. Whiskey fans should look for in virtual tastings should they want to participate in one is that they follow a helpful sequence like the above and also offer the interactive question time after. That way, true whiskey nerds can pick the brains of a whiskey expert, and more laid back fans can simply sip and enjoy the Q&A portion without having to participate. 

Sam also wanted to share that as a virtual viewer, “It’s important to remember that you don’t have to agree with everything. Everything we taste, smell, see and experience can only be relative to our past experiences! Never be afraid to speak up, speak first, or differ from the general opinion. Those people are my favorite.”

So whatever you do with your virtual tasting, whether it be organized through a brand or set up with friends, don’t be afraid to discuss what you’re tasting, and be bold with your opinions to make it more fun. 

Sam also shared that for those specifically interested in Bardstown, they offer a really immersive virtual 360 tour where they talk about their products. She said someone could do their own loose interpretation of a virtual tasting by picking up the products at their local liquor store or ordering from the company online.

Though virtual tastings are limited to select groups, Bardstown does hold online cocktail classes quarterly, complete with seasonally-inspired recipes. The distillery sets attendees up for success by providing shopping lists for each cocktail so the proper ingredients can be procured; this makes following the live cocktail class demonstration way more fun and interactive. They expect the next class to be held in July, with sign ups available towards the end of June. 

To stay in the know about their next virtual cocktail class, join the brand’s newsletter by visiting bardstownbourbon.com. Additionally, they will always announce when the next class is available for sign up on their Instagram @bardstownbourboncompany

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