In a stroke of brilliance one night, one of the Thirsty Test Kitchen minions suggested I stage a bourbon tasting party. I was very receptive to this idea, because I instantly figured out it was a way to trick people into bringing me bourbon to taste.

I am not an expert on bourbon tasting, but I am experienced.

First planning stop for this extravaganza was that interweb thing, where I found the American Bourbon Association had a lot of information, and some handy-dandy printable place mats to help keep the bourbon samples straight when you are blind tasting. I printed out all the stuff I needed and forgot to bring any of it to the party.

We gathered on the evening of the tasting party and assembled four bottles of bourbon; any more and we’d have wound up with inebriated taste buds. Someone got all the minions to look the other way, set up four clear glasses for each minion, and poured about a tablespoon of the first bourbon in cup number one of each place setting. The second went in cup number two and so on.

Bourbon is generally judged on four criteria: color, aroma, taste, and finish. To do so, first hold the glass up and look at the color. Darker generally is better because it indicates the bourbon has aged in charred oak barrels longer. Note also whether the bourbon is a little bit viscous, leaving “legs” on the side of the glass when you swirl it around.

Stick your nose right in the glass. Oak, vanilla, and caramel are the three primary flavors of bourbon, but there are dozens more you may detect. (We put some oak shavings, vanilla flavoring, and caramel candy in separate wine glasses; a sniff helped the aromas from the bourbon pop right out.)

Then give it a taste. Take half the sample in your mouth, hold, and “chew” it to swirl the bourbon around to all parts of your mouth before swallowing. Minions noted that the tip of the tongue heats up if the bourbon is sweeter, the back if it is bitter. The middle of your tongue picks up sourness and the sides saltiness. Sip and swallow the rest of the sample, noting whether the flavor vanishes quickly or lingers pleasantly (a long finish).

Hilarity ensued after about the second sample, with much debate and surprising agreement about some of the flavors and aromas. Finally, the big reveal: we told the minions what they were tasting and all agreed that while one doesn’t always get what one pays for, one often does. More hilarity ensued.

The minions thoroughly enjoyed the tasting. So get busy and plan your own tasting party. It’s fun and educational. Plus, people will bring you bourbon.