I've organized several whisky tastings for different types of audiences and I am happy to give you some tips.
A good theme makes the tasting more interesting than a tasting which is based on whatever people may or may not bring with them. Some good themes include:
- Islay Malts
- Whiskies of the World (for example Scotch blend/Scotch malt, Irish blend/malt, Bourbon, Tennessee, Canadian)
- Scottish single malts by regions (this can vary, I have used variations of Lowland, Speyside, Highland, Campbelltown, Island, Islay)
- New World Whiskeys (Bourbon, Tennessee, Canadian - have 2 of each for example, include in there a Rye for interest)
I would not recommend blind tasting occasions except when done with good humour amongst people who do not irk & mock others - simply because the unnecessary pressures often take away the fun and camaraderie felt in a good tasting occasion. I say again, blind tastings are rarely the kind of "ultimate neutrality & proof" tastings people make them out to be.
Make sure you have an idea of in what order the whiskies are served in - if you put a super-smoky Laphroaig as first and then go for a delicate Lowland whisky, I'm afraid all sense of taste is often lost.
Offer water both to drink in between tasted whiskies, as well as something that can be put in the whisky to bring down the alcohol levels (with a small spoon for example). It's good to remember that any alcohol above 38% seriously numbs the palate. I would encourage everyone to taste the whisky as is; and then carefully start adding water to it, to see how it changes and when they feel they've found an optimal balance.
Apart from water, offer something very neutral such as plain white bread in between whiskies for those who wish to try and cleanse their palate.
Discuss the whiskies, and let people make tasting notes. As a host, make an effort to allow each person involved to have their say on the taste of each whisky: This makes all tasters feel involved and doesn't allow more talkative or "knowledgeable" people to drown the other opinions.
Compare the notes of the crowd with those published by manufacturer or some other source, and see how they compare. Even when there's no resemblance, its fun.
At the end, perhaps do a poll and see how people would rate each of the products and which one gained most number one votes.