Tempt your adventurous mixologist within (or the one at your favorite establishment) to take you on a whirlwind tour of the top shelf by preparing a flight of cocktails for you and a couple of thoughtful drinking buddies. It's a fun way to try out new concoctions, and a great excuse to survey the field of spirits. Some bartenders team up with the restaurant's chef to bring food pairings into the mix.
A Couple of Ways to Go
One approach is to showcase a single liquor in a variety of cocktails. You and two or three friends get a little pour (just enough to really taste it, but not so much that you have to pack it in and head for home early). This is a great do-at-home approach, because you only need to purchase one bottle of the liquor in question.
Another approach is to make the same cocktail featuring five or six brands of the same booze. While this is probably the most scientific way to find out which brand tastes best in your favorite cocktail, the variety and interest comes in the subtleties of the liquors. If you're feeling highly rational and looking to hone your tasting skills, this might be your gig. I found out how little difference vodka filtered 35 or 135 times makes once mixed with citrus or other potent flavors. Whiskey, by contrast, remains fairly recognizable even when dosed.
The third, and perhaps least scientific but highly entertaining and crowd-pleasing way, is to have your mixologist prepare a bunch of cocktails using several brands. In the end you won't learn much about the subtle differences between liquors as sharply as you might using a stricter approach, but if your bartender is knowledgeable, it can still be a great way to get introduced to new spirits.
Who's Doing It?
In Boston at the Metropolitan club, the Flight to Provence martini sampler is offered with snacks and a unique “liquid Caprese” salad created by chef Todd Winer. In New York at Flaturon, mixologist Julie Reiner offers themed cocktail tastings. At Trois restaurant in Atlanta, Eric Simpkins brings Sazerac to several classic and not so classic recipes.