One of the best ways to learn about spirits is to taste them. Not only you have the chance to set the spirits against each other, and learn more about each style. But also, exploring their tasting notes and aromas will help you to pair them with different ingredients in cocktails.
There are four senses involved in a spirit tasting: sight, smell, taste and touch(mouthfeel). And each of them plays an important part in the whole tasting experience.
Mastery of tasting a spirit takes time and practice in order to develop our taste buds so it’s important to build the association with each particular flavour and memory bank of flavours for the best results.
How to properly taste a spirit
1.Preparation for tasting
Firstly, decide whether you will be tasting a single spirit or comparison of different types of spirits or brands.
When assessing a spirit choose a neutral environment preferably quiet place to help you concentrate. Also try to avoid smoking, perfumes, coffee or any strong flavoured food consumption before tasting. The best time for tasting depends mainly on preferences of each individual but natural daylight is essential.
Always taste spirits at the room temperature.
2. Choosing the right glassware
Certain glassware works better than others because the shape of the glass will dramatically influence the aromas on the nose. You can either use Tulip-shaped glasses with narrow mouths, to concentrate aromatics or some other experts recommend Bordeaux wine glasses or small brandy snifters.
3. The appearance – colour and viscosity
Hold the glass up to the light and look at its clarity(colour) and viscosity(mouthfeel) which will also tell you a great deal about the quality of the distillation process and the ageing. Different woods will impart different colours and flavours. White spirit doesn’t necessarily mean flavourless but you should notice whether there are any unusual characteristics, such as colour tints.
On the other hand, a blind tasting will solely tell you what’s in the glass, and not on the bottle, name, or fancy label.
4. Getting the aroma
Firstly swirl the sample around the glass to release aroma and then take a sniff-hold the glass jut a little distance from your nose otherwise, you may get “burn” of alcohol. If you don’t get much for the first time, repeat the process. Aromatics play a huge part in taste which can take up to 80% of flavour.
5. Water or no water
Choose the most neutral-tasting water you can, preferably spring water, not tap or mineral water. But you should have definitely water to hand either for cleansing your palate as you taste different spirits or for diluting samples.
Firstly, taste spirit in its natural state and then add a drop or two of water (room temp only). How much water to dilute your spirit depends on personal preference and on the strength of a spirit but a couple of drops will do which will open up the more hidden flavours and cut the alcohol burn.
6. Tasting a spirit
Firstly prepare your palate: Take a very small sip and hold it in your mouth then spit it out it will activate your taste buds and prepare your palate for what’s coming. Wait for a while, then take the actual tasting sip.
Even though there are some general flavour profiles to each spirit, the taste is very subjective. There is no right or wrong answer so don’t worry if you get a flavour that someone else doesn’t. Give flavours a few seconds to develop and think also about the finish or lingering taste(aftertaste that comes after you’ve swallowed the spirit).