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At the 2023 San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, I had the honor of hosting an intimate and engaging blind whiskey tasting. The event, named “Who’s Your Pappy,” hinted at our star attraction: the rare Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old.

Given the distinct nature of this rare whiskey tasting event, this exploration also becomes the perfect opportunity to dive into suggestions for hosting your own bourbon tasting and ways that we can help.

“Good evening, distinguished guests. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to decide which of these eight magnificent whiskeys is the Pappy Van Winkle 23.”

This challenge set the stage for an unforgettable evening.

My own mission in this tasting was meticulous. My goal was to present aged bourbons and ryes that could potentially be guessed as the Pappy 23, while also shining a spotlight on other whiskeys notable for their unique aging techniques and exceptional flavors.

The collection I decided on wasn’t just about finding older bourbons and ryes that might hint at Pappy Van Winkle notes; it was also about uncovering othe treasures I had encountered over my 18+ years as a whiskey educator and spirits journalist.

As the guests embarked on their mission, the true understanding of the event became apparent: Whether Pappy was picked as the favorite or another whiskey stole the spotlight, it was a celebration of fine whiskeys, shared experiences, and the understanding that there truly is only one Pappy Van Winkle 23.

I wrapped each secret whiskey in shiny cloth, creating an ‘Aha!’ unveiling moment for the crowd. It was a perfect photo opportunity for guests to enjoy and share on social media. (See photo at the bottom of this article.)

Hosting Your Own Bourbon and Whiskey Tasting: Suggestions and Themes

For your upcoming events or special occasions, consider hosting a blind whiskey tasting, similar to our “Who’s Your Pappy” event. Select a standout spirit as your centerpiece and let the adventure unfold.

Also, we are ready to help you plan and host your tasting for your next event no matter the size, location, or theme.

I invite you to email us at [email protected] and let’s chat. To start you off, here are a few ideas to create a memorable experience…

  • Select a Theme: Choose a central spirit or theme, like a rare bottle or a specific whiskey type, and build from there. This is one idea, the theme can also simply be “whiskeys we love.”
  • Tasting Preparation: Select 5-7 whiskeys, use appropriate glassware, and prepare note-taking materials. Using a mix of both ryes, bourbons, and American single malts can give you a good anchor point to decide which category.This seems to be an excellent number
  • Conduct the Blind Tasting: Blindly label each whiskey and encourage guests to guess or rank them. Again, a memorable tasting
  • Snacks: Offer palate-cleansing snacks such as crackers, nuts, cheeses, and meats.
  • Water and Ice: Though it may sound simple, having water is important for both hydration and also to add a few drops to your whiskey (or also ice if preffered) to help it open up.
  • Explore and Share: Spend time discussing with friends and guests to uncover their whiskey tastes, exchanging insights on what you like and dislike. These gatherings often allow us to make new connections, move forward with new knowledge, and discovering whiskeys we all love

For all of the above and more, we provide guidance, can work with you, your chef and more. Reach out to us professionally curated experience.

The Rare Bourbon and Rye Whiskey Line Up from the Pappy Tasting 

Blind Tasting Bourbon
Knob Creek 18-Year-Old Bourbon: While the original Knob Creek Bourbon Whiskey is aged for 9 years, it has often been knowingly shared by Beam Suntory there are some older Bourbons in this mix. We love Knob 9-Year-Old. This limited edition release of the 18 is phenomenal and also bottled at 100 proof.

For the price, highly recommended. The true taste of seriously old Bourbon, refined cooperage, evoking that “old warehouse” note we long for. This expression communicates a bouquet of dark fruit and seasoned oak, complemented by the subtle interplay of caramel and leather, all rounded off with the deep richness of dark cherry.

Peerless Double Oak Bourbon: Though guesses may range from 10 years upwards due to the serious notes on this one, it is aged for at least 4 years in the first barrel and then it goes into a new-charred oak barrel for extra aging. Again, it drinks much older.

A blend of tobacco, cooperage, and rich leather, all elegantly framed by the deep, resonant notes of gingerbread, cocoa, and “old library” notes.

Blue Run Single Barrel 8-Year-Old Bourbon: One of the best single barrels of the year, this is aged 8 years and selected by Jim Rutledge Though the proof is high around 120, the elegance and layers are refined, and it drinks lower. Apricot, lemon zest, and vanilla underscored by rich tones of cinnamon and toasted coffee, creating a sophisticated and layered-tasting experience

Kentucky Owl Maighstir Bourbon: This is a limited edition and the perfect blend of 4, 5, 8, and 9-year-old bourbons is a masterpiece. It showcases both younger and older notes with rich caramel and chocolate all the way through. Other notes include toasted cedar, unroasted coffee beans and cardamom spice, and toasted hazelnuts. Kentucky Owl always impresses.

Pappy Van Winkle 23 Bourbon Whiskey: Aged for 23 years. This is Pappy Van Winkle 23. Perfection.

WhistlePig 15-Year-Old Vermont Oak Estate Rye: Aged for 15 years and finished in custom charred barrels made from Vermont White Oak trees, which impart nuanced flavors due to the denser wood grain.Buttery, zesty hints of clove, mingled with rich expression of age. Accented by notes of honey, and pepper and embraced deep vanilla. A true gem in the class of rye giving enthusiasts the chance to sip an old rye which is both currently accessible and one-of-a-kind.

Jefferson’s Tropics Aged in Humidity Bourbon:¬† To me, this evokes the richness of bourbons aged over 15 years, Jefferson’s Tropics Aged in Humidity features distinctly buttery notes that enrich its profile. Unlike Jefferson’s Ocean, this unique bourbon was aged in a Singapore warehouse for around 18 months, where it absorbed the intense humidity and heat, enhancing its flavors. However, like Jefferson’s Ocean, it indeed took the journey by sea. Subtle warm leather against rich molasses mingles seamlessly with a blend of exotic spices and a vibrant array of orchard fruits, culminating in a lusciously smooth finish that echoes creaminess and perfection.

As far as I know, there has never been a bourbon project like Tropics aged in Singapore.

Orphan Barrel Series: Scarlet Shade Rye Whiskey 14-year-old:  A wonder in rye whiskeys, distilled in Indiana, aged in Kentucky, and bottled in Tennessee. This 14-year-old rye whiskey, aged in new white oak barrels, unveils a symphony of flavors: creamy vanilla and a tapestry of lush berries, all zested with a bright, citrusy spark. The oak weaves through each sip, culminating in a decadent dark chocolate finish. The notes on this rye suggest a blend with even older whiskeys than 14 years, adding complexity to its already distinguished character.

Article by Bourbon expert Tom Fischer.


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