What do you do when you have friends who are just as into whiskey as you are? You throw a whiskey-tasting party and try to convince your less whiskey-loving friends to hop on board. Oh, and for that party you should make a ton of whiskey-themed food. Right? When an idea like this pops into your head, you can’t do much to stifle it. It starts to control you.
Laura from Roam + Golightly (you might remember her from the Feast of St. Pizza we hosted together) and I have been planning this party since May. We had the idea for it even earlier than that, but then she up and went to Thailand and Japan for the summer so we saved it for September. It seemed like the perfect way to welcome in the fall season anyway.
I’ve also mentioned our friends Dave and Kelley on here many times (Dave is my bourbon buddy from this post) – I would call them the closest things to being food bloggers without actually being ones. They became equally excited about the idea for this whiskey party, and they were kind enough to offer to host it at their house and help us plan everything.
This was super helpful because Dave and Kelley live in a real, honest-to-goodness house with a back yard and everything. Laura and I live in apartments downtown (we’re blogging buddies AND neighbors), so having their house as a venue allowed us to scale up the party a bit.
Things started to fall into place and we all dove head-first into a Pinterest frenzy. We were dreaming up ideas about a whiskey tasting party in their back yard by the creek with twinkly lights all strung up in the trees … Kelley started scheming about decorating ideas (don’t you love her whiskey bottles as flower vases?) and Laura was doing some major nerding out about how to do a whiskey tasting and designing our tasting cards. Meanwhile I was dreaming up recipes (mostly sweets and cocktails like what I’m sharing today), while Dave went gung-ho on pinning all of the savory whiskey recipes he could find on the internet. I’d call us a party-planning dream team.
… And then it poured most of the day. No twinkly lights in the trees for us. It did finally clear up near the very end of the party and we were able to enjoy the fresh air for a little, but we were all pretty bummed about how the weather let us down. But all’s well that ends well – Instead of being an outdoor backyard party, it turned into a cozy, rain day whiskey party inside. It was still SO MUCH FUN.
Kelley worked some miracles with her gold votives, brown craft paper and artfully arranged flowers in the whiskey bottles. Dave is a smoker/grill master, so he made wings and ribs. I’m super sensitive to spice so the wings almost burnt my face off, but everyone else inhaled them and said they were the best wings they’ve ever had. The much milder ribs were some of the best I’ve ever had, probably second or equal to ribs of Dave’s I’ve had before. (I don’t even really like ribs … except for when Dave makes them in his electric smoker. He’s converted me.) Laura designed a chic tasting card for everyone to take notes, and the whole party seemed to come together, despite the fact that we had to move it inside.
We pulled our menu together one night over drinks at the new distillery in town, and it was a knockout. You’d think that all whiskey-themed foods might get a little old, but I don’t think any of us felt that way. We had a good variation in flavors and texture with both sweet and savory items. Here’s a full breakdown of the menu:
• Bourbon Glazed Wings (by Dave)
• Bourbon Brie with Walnuts, served with apple slices and crackers (from Midwest Living)
• Bourbon Brown Butter Whipped Ricotta on Cinnamon Toast with Bourbon Brown Sugar Caramelized Figs (How’s that for a name? This was dreamt up by a group of us at dinner one night, and brought to life by Kelley.)
• Smoked Ribs (with Dave’s rub) with Bourbon Whiskey BBQ Sauce (from Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen)
• Crockpot Bacon Bourbon Baked Beans (from How Sweet Eats)
• Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Bourbon and Mustard (from Garden and Gun)
• Bourbon Pecan and Apple Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette (from Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen)
• Bourbon Cookie Dough Shots (recipe below)
• Oatmeal Cookies with Bourbon-Soaked Raisins (adapted by Kelley)
• Salted Pecan and Bourbon Brownies (from London Bakes)
And now for some details about the two recipes I’m sharing with you today:
BOURBON COOKIE DOUGH SHOTS
I have to give most of the brain credit for these to Robert. Last year I made the bourbon and tarragon chocolate chip cookies from the Ovenly Cookbook, which are seriously to die for. I was joking with Robert that I was getting a buzz from the raw cookie dough, and he came up with the brilliant idea to make cookie dough “shots,” like jello shots but with boozy cookie dough instead. GENIUS! This is why I married this man. Sometimes he just hands me ideas like that and sends me off to figure them out. So I tweaked the original cookie dough from Ovenly to leave out the eggs and stuff so you could eat it raw, and I bumped the bourbon content WAY up. I thought they turned out a bit strong to eat as plain cookie dough, so we covered them in chocolate like a cookie dough truffle. (That should be my solution for everything.) We made them bite-sized so you can actually do it like a shot if you wanted to. And don’t worry – you’d probably need to eat about 8 of these to get a full “shot” of bourbon, so feel free to go a little nuts (although they are quite rich).
SPARKLING WHISKEY COCKTAIL WITH HONEY AND MINT
I dreamt this up while we were on vacation in South Carolina back in July. I tried to order something like it at the one bar in Charleston but they weren’t able to do it for me. Then I made a makeshift version back at the beach house. But when I got home from that trip I really perfected it. (It’s super easy.) All you need is some fresh mint, a honey simple syrup (which is great to have on hand for other cocktails as well), whiskey and some bubbly water. This is a perfectly refreshing summer whiskey drink – kind of like a weird honey-whiskey mojito, or a bubbly, honey-infused mint julep. I bet this will become a regular in my summer cocktail repertoire (along with my blueberry mojitos).
In addition to all of the food we served, we also set up an epic cocktail station for people to create their perfect whiskey drink of choice. The options were endless. We had an assortment of citrus fruits, fresh mint and basil, the summer shrub set from Food52, various simple syrups including mint, honey, plum, peach and this spiced vanilla one from Kitchen Konfidence, ginger beer, club soda, bitters, plenty of ice, maraschino cherries, etc. It must have been the best make-your-own cocktail station one of our parties has ever seen.
People had a great time mixing up drinks. I made a handful of my cocktails for people, Dave was making perfect Manhattans like the classy dude he is, and Robert was making all sorts of crazy cocktails. (He used to be a bartender.) (<<< Another reason why I married him.) Robert doesn’t even like whiskey that much but every time I turned around he had a new cocktail creation in his hand. He really went for it.
For the actual whiskey tasting we chose 5 different whiskeys:
• Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
• Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey (this one used to be produced around here in the Central PA area, and now the old recipe is being produced in Kentucky)
• Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey
• Bulleit Frontier White Rye Whiskey
• McClelland’s Islay Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
My verdict? The Blanton’s shone bright for me compared to the other two bourbons, although the Jim Beam was perfectly acceptable to me. The Michter’s wasn’t my favorite because it has more of a fruity cherry note that I didn’t care for. I was pleasantly surprised by the Bulleit rye (maybe I’m a rye kind of girl?), and I hated the scotch. I just don’t like that smokey stuff. I enjoyed being able to taste all of these next to each other. It’s always helpful to taste multiple versions of one thing like that so you can pull out all of the nuances of each one.
If you can gather some friends for something like this, you should totally do it. I’m not sure I’d recommend doing something to this scale all on your own, but if you have willing partners in crime then you should go for it. Laura and I need to say a HUGE thank you to Dave and Kelley for putting in so much effort. This party would not have been what it was without them. They went above and beyond the call of duty (which is the only way they know how to do things, and part of the reason I love them). You guys are the best!
If you need even MORE whiskey inspiration, check out my Whiskey & Bourbon Wish List.
Now I’m dreaming up similar tasting parties … If I throw a tequila tasting party, would you come to it?
PS – Don’t forget to check out Laura’s post to see all of her gorgeous photos, read her tips for hosting your own whiskey-tasting party, and to download a free printable of our tasting cards.
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1.75 cups all purpose flour
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup bourbon
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
- 16 oz. dark chocolate
- Warm the butter in a skillet over medium high heat while whisking constantly. It will foam up and bubble. Once it smells nutty and the butter solids start to brown on the bottom of the pan, remove it from the heat and set aside to cool for at least 5 minutes.
- Stir together the flour and salt in a medium bowl.
- Beat together the browned butter and sugars on medium speed until fully incorporated, about 1 minute.
- With the mixer on low, add the bourbon and vanilla extract.
- Add the flour mixture and chocolate chips, mixing just until combined.
- Chill the mixture for at least 30 minutes to an hour so it can be easily formed into balls.
- Shape the dough into small ½-inch balls. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for at least one hour or overnight.
- Meanwhile, gently melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler (or a heat proof bowl set over a saucepan with 1 inch of water simmering in it).
- Once the dough balls are well chilled, pick them up with a toothpick and dunk them in the melted chocolate to cover them. Place them back on the sheet pan. Once they are covered in chocolate, place them back in the freezer for at least 30 minutes so the chocolate fully hardens. You may have to put the dough balls back in the freezer a few times to re-harden if they starts to warm up too much.
- Store the finished cookie dough shots in the freezer or refrigerator before serving.
- fresh mint
- club soda
- Bring equal parts of honey and water to a boil in a saucepan. Once it reaches a boil, take it off the heat and set aside to cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. (I like to do ½ cup of each, which leaves plenty leftover for future cocktails.)
- In the bottom of your cup, gently muddle a handful of fresh mint with 1 tbsp of honey syrup. The fragrance of the mint should be strong.
- Fill the cup with ice. Add 2 oz. of whiskey and 4 oz. of club soda.
- Give it a stir with a straw, and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. (Add more honey syrup if desired.)