Party planning becomes easy when you start with a solid theme. “When there is a theme, and there’s a sense of continuity among food and beverage, décor, time, and place, it just feels way more thought-out. It leads people to engage more and to have a better time,” says Juliet DeRose, senior beverage manager at Union Square Hospitality Group in New York.
As yearlong whisky advocates, we certainly don’t need a reason to get together with good friends to enjoy whisky. But for whisky-loving hosts looking for inspiration to gather, we’re here with a list of great excuses to throw a whisky party.
Reason to celebrate: Robert Burns’s Birthday (Jan. 25)
You’re serving: Single malt scotch
Poet Robert Burns is traditionally celebrated with readings of his classic works like “Auld Lang Syne” and “Address to a Haggis” accompanied by authentic Scottish cuisine. “It’s particularly important to expatriates like myself that we maintain these traditions,” says Alex Murray, co-chairman of the Scottish American Society of Ohio. “But we accept that not everybody will enjoy an evening centered around haggis.” Feel free to maintain a balance of tradition and accommodation, advises Murray. As long as you offer a variety of single malt scotches and are prepared to mix up a Bobby Burns cocktail, (1 oz. scotch, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, ½ oz. Bénédictine), it will be a worthy tribute.
Top picks: Introduce your guests to some new works, both distilled and written.
Arran 10 year old—87 points, $50
GlenDronach 15 year old Revival—92 points, $90
Old Pulteney 12 year old—87 points, $45
More cause for celebration: New Year’s Day (Jan. 1)—Have a Bloody Mary made with peated scotch.
Reason to celebrate: The Academy Awards
You’re serving: Silver screen whiskies
Assemble your whisky-loving Avengers to tune in to the festivities and sip a few movie-themed whiskies, like Blade Runner-inspired Johnnie Walker Director’s Cut or Old Forester Statesman, created for the Kingsman franchise. Or take your cue from big screen stars, like Matthew McConaughey, who collaborated with Wild Turkey to create Longbranch, or Leonardo DiCaprio, who enjoys a few Whiskey Sours in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Top picks: Keep it classy with an assortment of cinematic, statuesque, and star-studded whiskies.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve—88 points, $79
Old Forester Statesman—88 points, $55
Wild Turkey Longbranch—87 points, $40
More cause for celebration: Groundhog Day (Feb. 2)—Retaste an old favorite; Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14)—Because sometimes three’s a crowd.
Reason to celebrate: St. Patrick’s Day (March 17)
You’re serving: Irish whiskey
Celebrate Irish whiskey’s moment in the sun as the fastest-growing style of whisky. A bounty of new producers and expressions pops up every year, whether you prefer the mainstream success of Proper No. Twelve or the style-mashing Kilbeggan Small Batch rye. Wrap up the night with the perfect Irish coffee. Dale DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail, notes that a classic Irish blend like Powers or Jameson is the perfect choice for this drink because it won’t overpower it like a pot still Irish whiskey. Finish the drink with freshly whipped cream, added by carefully pouring it over an upside down spoon so it floats atop the coffee.
Top picks: Represent the three main styles: blended, single pot still, and single malt.
Proper No. Twelve—85 points, $30
Redbreast Lustau—93 points, $69
Tyrconnell 16 year old—91 points, $100
More cause for celebration: Employee Appreciation Day (March 6)—Treat your employees, or yourself.
Reason to celebrate: Earth Day (Apr. 22)
You’re serving: “Green” whiskies
Whisky is an agricultural product, and many distilleries around the globe are embracing sustainable practices. Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths, who promote sustainable drinking through their Trash Tiki pop-ups, always do their research. “Even just digging below the surface of what a label says by hopping on the website will give you a lot of information very quickly as to what a brand and/or distillery is truly doing,” Griffiths says. For example, Angel’s Envy and Graton Distilling have tree-planting initiatives. Create cocktails using local and seasonal ingredients, suggest Ramage and Griffiths.
Top picks: Brands that put organic ingredients, sustainability, and environmental friendliness at the forefront.
Benromach Organic—87 points, $70
Redwood Empire Lost Monarch—87 points, $45
Tomatin 14 year old Port Wood Finish—86 points, $55
More cause for celebration: Arbor Day (April 24)—There’s no whisky without oak trees.
Reason to celebrate: Derby Day (first Saturday in May)
You’re serving: Mint Juleps
The most exciting two minutes in sports comes accompanied by whiskey’s coolest summer cocktail: the Mint Julep. Follow the traditional recipe or get creative with herbs and sweeteners, but stick with silver cups and crushed ice for a sure bet. “Making and enjoying a Mint Julep is a personal experience. Everyone doesn’t like the same amount of sweetness or mint character in their Julep,” says Chris Morris, master distiller at Woodford Reserve and veteran of 30 Kentucky Derbies. “I remember going to Derby parties with my parents as a child and later as a teenager. Obviously, once I started going to the Derby itself, that cut into my Derby party attendance.”
Top picks: Invest in some big bottles of bourbon like these 1.75-liter bargains.
Elijah Craig Small Batch—87 points, $55
Maker’s Mark—89 points, $50
Woodford Reserve—89 points, $60
More cause for celebration: National Small Business Week (first week of the month)—Support a craft distiller.
Reason to celebrate: Graduation Day
You’re serving: Your standby favorites
If the honoree just finished undergrad or graduate school, introduce them to the wonderful world of whisky by toasting and tutoring with a few of your favorites. “Knowing whiskey has proven useful,” says Eric Simanek, who teaches Whiskey: Science and History at Texas Christian University. “Students report using it to facilitate introductions at social events, land jobs during an interview, and connect with parents and others through a common passion.” A bottle from the grad’s year of birth or released the year they graduated makes the perfect gift.
Top picks: Tried-and-true favorites even a novice whisky drinker will love.
Glenmorangie Original 10 year old—87 points, $40
Hibiki Harmony—90 points, $65
Russell’s Reserve 10 year old—88 points, $37
More cause for celebration: Best Friends Day (June 8)—Because whisky is best when shared with a friend.
Reason to celebrate: Independence Day (July 4)
You’re serving: America’s native spirit
In 1964 Congress declared bourbon a distinctive product of the U.S., making it a fitting bibulous tribute to our nation. If you really want to drink like a founding father, look beyond bourbon—after all, George Washington was one of the nation’s largest distillers of rye whiskey, according to Steven Bashore, director of historic trades at Mount Vernon’s George Washington’s Distillery. “For the Washington time period, bourbon did not exist as a class of whiskey. So it would have been corn whiskey and of course rye whiskey in the 18th century,” Bashore says. Whether serving bourbon, rye, or a local craft whiskey, you’ll be doing your civic duty.
Top picks: Whiskeys that tout their American heritage.
Evan Williams Single Barrel 2009 Vintage—88 points, $30
Jefferson’s Very Small Batch—85 points, $35
Sons of Liberty Uprising—82 points, $50
More cause for celebration: Bastille Day (July 14)—The French enjoy (and make) great whisky.
Reason to celebrate: National S’mores Day (Aug. 10)
You’re serving: Camping companions
Before summer comes to an end, make time for one last whisky under the stars, while serving up the season’s favorite campfire treat of chocolate, toasted marshmallow, and graham cracker. The warm, gooey goody is especially suited to American bourbons and ryes, which offer charred-barrel notes and ample sweetness to match toasted marshmallow. Take the classic to higher ground by using dark, bittersweet chocolate or home-baked graham crackers with extra cinnamon. You can also experiment with pairing smoky American whiskeys like Del Bac Dorado and Balcones Brimstone.
Top picks: Fireside-friendly drams that pair well with sweet delights.
1792 Bottled in Bond—90 points, $36
Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye—94 points, $70
Tincup American Whiskey—87 points, $30
More cause for celebration: Whiskey Sour Day (Aug. 25)—Fresh lemon juice never tasted so good.
Reason to Celebrate: A Toast-Worthy Tailgate (each weekend following Labor Day)
You’re serving: Easy-to-pair whiskies
Tailgates and football parties always demand plenty of cold beer, so Gordon Kalinic, director of operations at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak & Pub, which hosts a 49ers tailgate at their Levi’s Stadium location, creates a game plan matching whisky and beer. It doesn’t have to be fancy: Kalinic says that Buffalo Trace with a cold and crushable Pabst Blue Ribbon is one of their most popular pairings. Consider including some hometown beers or some from the rival team’s city for your starting lineup.
Top picks: High-value bottles that match well with a cold beer or fizzy soda.
High West Double Rye!—91 points, $35
Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition—90 points, $30
Suntory Toki—88 points, $40
More cause for celebration: Bourbon Heritage Month—American history in a glass.
Reason to celebrate: Halloween (Oct. 31)
You’re serving: Whisky and candy pairings
You can find popular tasting notes like peanuts, caramel, chocolate, and nougat all wrapped up in the candy aisle, or possibly in your child’s trick-or-treat stash. Provide bite-size candy bars, like PayDay and Heath bars, or snackable sweets like malted milk balls, candy corn, and Peanut Chews, and challenge your guests to find the flavors in the whiskies on offer. If the whiskies tie into the spooky holiday, like Mars’ The Lucky Cat or Old Bones 10 year old bourbon, all the better. You might even pick up some sip-sized 50-ml whiskies to add to adult trick-or-treat gift bags.
Top picks: Search our online Buying Guide to find whiskies with candy flavors.
Ardbeg 10 year old—92 points, $56
Jim Beam Bonded—88 points, $23
Nikka Coffey Grain—92 points, $65
More cause for celebration: Boss’s Day (Oct. 16)—Because you’re your own boss.
Reason to celebrate: Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday of the month)
You’re serving: A classic: neat, on the rocks, and in a cocktail
Hosting on Thanksgiving often means a large list of diverse guests. Make it easy for everyone to enjoy whisky by selecting something that’s versatile and can transition as the night progresses. Start by offering a long drink—whisky on ice, topped with cola, ginger ale, or club soda. Transition to a more potent aperitif like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan to stimulate the appetite, and the conversation. Finally, offer the same whisky neat or on the rocks after dinner. By selecting one whisky that can do it all, you’ll limit your shopping list and streamline your bartending duties.
Top picks: An easy-to-find crowd pleaser that can take on several shapes.
Chivas Regal 12 year old—86 points, $25
Four Roses Small Batch—88 points, $35
Wild Turkey 101 Rye—88 points, $38/liter
More cause for celebration: Black Friday—The perfect way to prepare for the mall.
Reason to celebrate: The holidays
You’re serving: The year’s highlights
“The darker spirits at Christmastime, they just go hand in hand,” says Joann Spiegel, general manager for Miracle, a Christmas-themed pop-up bar. “It definitely is one of the stars of the show.” You’ve spent the entire year tasting and hosting, building your bar, and discovering new favorites; so let the crowd sample your selection. Make whisky part of a new tradition, like a Secret Santa exchange where everybody brings a favorite bottle. Or highlight a group of kosher whiskies (avoid wine cask-finished and flavored) arranged as a menorah.
Top picks: Your personal favorites, either straight from your bar or curated just for the occasion.
Dewar’s Double Double 32 year old—94 points, $150/375ml.
Little Book Chapter 2 “Noe Simple Task”—93 points, $100
Nikka From The Barrel—94 points, $65
More cause for celebration: National Eggnog Day (Dec. 24)—Everything is better with bourbon.