My fiancé’s champagne birthday was quickly approaching and of course he “didn’t want anything big” to celebrate this monumental moment in his life. So naturally, I decided to throw him a home whisky tasting party for him and 7 of his closest friends. This was probably one of my favourite events to plan, especially because he is a no fuss kind of guy. We had great feedback from our guests I loved every minute of planning it!
Start with a high-level event vision
Whenever I am planning an event, I always picture it from a 40,000-foot level. What is the main goal of your event? How many people do you want involved? Where do you want to host it? What time of day / year are you considering? How much money do you want to spend?
From the beginning I had a vision of everyone sitting around a round table. Each guest would sip out of crystal glass wear, sampling exquisite whisky’s and tasting delicious horderves. My fiancé pictured four guys sitting around the kitchen table polishing off a 2-4 and bottle of forty creek. I kept the whisky tasting a surprise from him until one week before the event. I had done the bulk of the planning and just needed his help with the final touches. He also refused to let me surprise him as he thought I might go “over the top”.
What should I do first?
You want to have an idea of what others have done and build on that. I took to Pinterest like a bat out of hell. Once I had a general outline of what I would need I was able to make my checklist. Again, this is at a 40,000-foot level.
The first thing I had to do was pick the whisky him and his friends would be tasting. I didn’t know a lot about whisky so I brought along a colleague of mine who is a bit of whisky enthusiast. I knew my fiancé liked Canadian whisky. We chose four different types of Canadian whisky that I knew he hadn’t tried before. If you are planning a surprise sampling for someone, take a peek at their liquor cabinet and pay attention to what types of beverages they do and do not enjoy. Try to pick some familiar brands but also pick some they probably have never heard of before. If you are trying to keep costs down, you can pick the sample list and ask your friends or family each purchase one as the gift to the birthday boy (or girl). Have them open the whisky ahead of time in an unlabeled decanter or have them write a little birthday card to read out before the guests sample that whisky.
After we chose our whisky, I had to get the appropriate glassware to go along with it. I took a trip to Marshalls, Winners and Home Sense and was able to find some decanters on clearance, as well as 4 sets of crystal glass wear. The morning of the party I poured the whisky into labeled decanters.
IMPORTANT: Be sure to write down which whisky is in each decanter so you don’t forget! You can also find lots of great deals at your local thrift store, I ended up purchasing one of the glassware sets from Goodwill and after some bleach and an hour in the sun they were good as new!
Ask the experts, they’re here to help!
This was the first whisky tasting we have ever hosted and we wanted to be sure we were hitting all of the marks. I reached out to one of the distilleries we were sampling to get their insight on how to run the whisky tasting and some rules for sampling. They were happy to share their best practices and provide me with some insights and do’s and don’t’s. They event sent me their whisky tasting cheat sheet to use at my event. If the samples you pick are local, most distilleries are eager to help you out any way that they can. They value your business and want to ensure you have the best experience possible, especially when tasting their product for the first time.
DONUT forget about the desserts!
Because it was his birthday, I wanted to be sure to have lots of dessert options. We decided doing a dessert bar was a great idea to provide our guests with a variety of options. We took a trip to Spicer’s Bakery in Lambeth and picked some seasonal desserts such as mini tarts, mini pies and some gourmet donuts. We made a date night out of it by picking one of each of item and had a little taste test at home over a bottle of wine.
As much as I enjoy having lots of catering dishes at home, sometimes it’s definitely worth renting some dishes and flatware to get that uniform look. We rented a 5 ft round table, Chiavari chairs and covered it with a floor length black linen. We ordered a rack of water glasses and some pitchers. When you are tasting straight alcohol, it’s important everyone is provided with lots of water. They drank the water between samples, and also diluted some of the samples with it. I reached out to one of my friends and she let me borrow some serving trays and ice buckets. Rentals can definitely add up so if you have friends who like to host, make sure you ask them if they have anything you can borrow.
We wanted to pair the whisky with some charcuterie so we made a trip to the local farmers market and purchased various cheeses, meats, fresh baguette and an assortment of pickled vegetables. This was great to help soak up the liquor and ensure none of our guests went hungry.
For those who wanted to attend the party but not indulge in the temptations of the whisky, we did a coffee bar and paired it with some 40-creek liqueur and baileys. This kept with the theme of the “Whisky birthday” and provided our guests with something to keep them awake and alert.
The little touches
I knew none of our guests had participated in a whisky tasting before so I created little whisky tasting cheat sheets for reference. I also created scorecards for each guests to rate each whisky and for them to guess which whisky they think it is. We set up the table with four sample glasses, one water glass, a whisky tasting rule sheet and a rule card and pen per person.
Overall it was a very successful birthday. It is always so much fun seeing your vision come together. One of my greatest thrills is providing my guests with a fun, unique experience whenever I can. I think this party will definitely be hard to top next year!