Many people have asked which bourbons they should choose to have their own tasting experience. Here are some ideas to have your own bourbon tasting.

Select bourbons by mashbill

For this, you can be as creative as you would like. Do you bourbons that use rye or wheat as the flavoring grain? Then select three different bourbons with rye or wheat in the mash bill. There are multiple ways to choose the bourbon so that there will be noticeable differences. We will assume that you would like to feature three different rye bourbons in your tasting. The most straightforward and most apparent selection would be to select a bourbon from three different distilleries. So an option for a rye bourbon tasting could be Buffalo Trace, Old Forester, and Elijah Craig. An opportunity for wheat bourbon could be Weller, Larceny, and Makers Mark.

Bourbon tasting placesetting
An example of a bourbon tasting. Note we are using a white dog to show people what bourbon looks like before barrel aging.

Select bourbons by ABV or proof

Another great way to experience contrasts in your bourbon tasting would be to include three different proof levels. Combining an eighty proof, 100 proof, and barrel strength proof greater than 110 proof will also provide a challenge for your pallet. It will also lead you to a proof level that you prefer. I have grown fond of higher-proof bourbon, but that has developed over time. Many entry-level bourbon drinkers enjoy 80-proof bourbon. There is nothing wrong with that, and the very idea of bourbon tastings is to help you expand or identify your whiskey palate.

What about history?

When I put on my public or private tastings, I enjoy selecting historically significant bottles for a tasting. Not only do you get different flavor profiles, but the bottle itself tells a unique story. Examples of this would include Old Forester, considered the first bottled bourbon needed to avoid tampering and rectifying whiskey. Jim Beam continues to be a world leader in bourbon production, so taking something from their small-batch collection would be significant. Basil Hayden, Bookers, Bakers, or Knob Creek would all be examples of small-batch bourbons. Taking it another step would be choosing Basil Hayden. It would be a bottle whose namesake is significant in the bourbon world. He is the only person to be recognized for two different bourbon brands. There are many choices in historical bottles. Elmer T. Lee, E.H. Taylor, and Old Fitzgerald, to name a few, all have a story behind the whiskey and the brand.

Regional choices

I am more than a little prejudiced toward Kentucky bourbon. However, you can do a creative tasting by choosing regional products. Selecting bourbons from four different states would allow you to identify differences in aroma and flavor. So, for example, you could create a tasting with a Michigan Bourbon, Kentucky Bourbon, Texas Bourbon, and a West Virginia Bourbon. Take the different regional selections and note the differences. How long was each one aged, the flavoring grain used, the differences created by secondary barrel finishing, etc.? Examples of bourbons from other states are Texas, Balcones, or Garrison Brothers. From Michigan, Traverse City Bourbon, Iron Fish, Journeyman, Valentine. From West Virginia, Contradiction or Old Scout from Smooth Ambler.

Your own bourbon tasting can be as unique as you would like. Many combinations will help you better understand the flavor nuances between whiskies. If you are interested in attending a tasting, or you would like more ideas for your own tasting at home, just let me know at Cheers!