Running a Whisky Tasting

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If you’re reading my blog then there’s a good chance you’ve already attended a whisky tasting or two, and if not I would highly recommend it. If you have attended a whisky tasting though have you ever wondered how much work has gone into setting it up? After running a very small scale tasting myself at home I got some idea of the work that goes into it and with the help of The Birmingham Whisky Club decided to investigate further.

I was due to attend an Elements of Islay Tasting run by The Birmingham Whisky Club and I asked to come early to get a view of the set up for the tasting. Amy (who set up the club in 2011) and Vicky (Events and Marketing Manager) were busy filling glasses as arrived. I tried my best to keep out of their way while taking a few shots of them setting up and chatting away with them.

Now this tasting was due to start at 7pm but Amy and Vicky had been there since 5pm getting everything set up and pouring whisky. That’s right, the whisky isn’t magically brought in by the Whisky Fairy (yes there’s a Whisky Fairy and she’s much cooler than the Easter Bunny!). No it’s a long and repetitive task setting up place mats, putting out glasses and pouring out equal levels of the right whisky into the right glasses (with around 180 glasses to fill it would be easy to get some mixed up if you didn’t concentrate).

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Before it even reached this stage though there is a lot or preparation that has to go into setting up a whisky tasting. First you need a venue (in this case The Wellington which has an impressive 150 whiskies on offer!). You also have to make sure that you either find a venue which is licensed to serve alcohol or make sure your tasting is legal and above board (insurance, personal license, temporary event notice etc.) especially for you plan on charging for entry but even events for private members need to licensed properly .

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Then you need to decide on what you’ll be tasting. You might be able to get a distillery or whisky company involved (as with the Elements of Islay tasting) or you may decide to run it yourself. If you decide to do it yourself you’ll need to decide on whether there is a theme to the evening or if you’re picking a line up that you think works well. If that’s the case you also need to make sure the whiskies work in the order you asterisk them – for example a heavily peated whisky is best tasted after a lighter whisky. You’ll also have to source the whisky (enough for a good equal measure for everyone) and tasting glasses if your venue can’t provide them.

Next you’ll want to invite people and publicise your event – this is something The Birmingham Whisky Club certainly don’t struggle with. There’s always a good mix of members and general public attending their events and their Whisky Birmingham festival seems to sell out earlier and earlier each year! (Check out their festival in March 2017 now if you want to be sure to get a ticket).

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You then have the task of setting up and running the tasting, making sure everyone’s water is topped up (arguably the most important job). You’ll either be supporting whoever is running it or you’ll be up there yourself leading everyone through the whiskies and answering questions.

Finally you need to deal with the clear up – if you’re lucky this may include some left over whisky that hasn’t been drunk yet but most likely it’s just collecting glasses and then the major task of washing up potentially 180+ glasses!

So next time you attend a whisky tasting just take a moment to think about how much work has gone into it and maybe give a little thank you to the organisers.

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