This is key: Don’t spit.
The reason you shouldn’t spit is because the finish is so important. Fine spirits should have a long, pleasant, lingering finish — not a hot, kerosene-like burn. Because professional spirits tasters almost never spit, we always sample with much less liquid than we would with wine: about a half-ounce. A taste of wine would be about an ounce.
For that reason, you can’t possibly taste as many spirits in a sitting as you can wine. I can taste 50 or more wines in an afternoon, spitting them as I go, and I can still function critically. Once I taste about a dozen or so spirits, my palate starts to get overwhelmed. For a newbie, the number is more like eight.
Another issue with a fine spirits tasting is that the expense can be much greater than that of a wine tasting. To keep costs in check, I’ve chosen to focus on rum for our sample tasting, because rum is comparatively cheaper than whiskey, brandy or tequila.
For your enjoyment, I’ve mapped out an eight-rum tasting, divided into four flights. The cost to do this entire tasting is around $250. Not cheap. But if you organize a party with six to eight friends, no one should spend more than about $40. Alternatively, to keep costs down, you could taste four rums, one from each flight.
To make a tasting party even more festive, I always make some kind of punch, to serve either as everyone arrives or as a palate cleanser after the tasting. In this case, keeping with a rum theme, I choose the classic Jamaican Punch. Save the aged rums for the tasting, and use a good-value light rum, such as Chairman’s Reserve Silver, in this punch.
Good luck. Have fun. I’m always ready for The Call, should you need an extra mouth.
Rum tasting: Eight to try
Wilson is the author of “Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits” (Ten Speed Press, 2011). Follow him on Twitter @boozecolumnist. He’ll join today’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.