Spirits are enjoyed in all kinds of ways, but there are some general rules you can’t go wrong with. In this lesson you'll learnHow to taste like a professional connoisseur.
And we dive.
APPEARANCE / COLOUR
Hold the glass toward the light or against a white background and assess the colour, which doesn't necessarily reveal the age, but it indicates how the spirit was matured:
The intensity of the colour indicates whether the cask is on its first, second or third filling. Now give your wrist a workout and do a good swirl around the glass, look at the legs and tears that form inside.
If they run slowly and are thick, it is probably a heavier style of spirit and it is possibly older. If they run quick and thin, it has to be lighter and/or younger. Long legs usually indicate that a spirit is high in alcohol. Imagine that.
SMELL / NOSE / AROMA
Sense of smell is very important; human nose can distinguish between hundreds of different smells, while the tongue can distinguish only among five primary tastes. In fact 70% of all flavor perception comes through the nose.
You approach and nose the spirit gently, very gently, or you’ll get burned. Some people nose spirits one after the other and then with both nostrils. Take your nose away from the top of the glass after each evaluation. Try to believe your brain, believe the first thing you smell, then repeat it and other layers will uncover slowly. What you’re trying to do is identify any familiar smells.
Here's some help:
1) The primary aromas are those of raw materials;
2) The secondary aromas are from processing – herbal, floral, citrus, spice;
3) The tertiary aromas are from ageing – wood, vanilla, chocolate, caramel, coffee, sherry, soy…
Be aware that over time you will become acclimatised to the smell and it can be harder to detect new characteristics. Give your nose a break, get some fresh air and you are good to go again.
TASTE / FLAVOR / PALATE
There are 4 commonly acknowledged primary tastes in the Western civilization, 5 with the addition of Umami. That's sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Savory (Umami).
Distillation brings out the widest variety of flavors:
Ageing brings out flavors depending on the wood: wood, vanilla, chocolate, caramel, coffee, sherry, soy…
Now let's have a taste! Take a small sip – immerse your taste buds – let it roll over your tongue, around the sides of your tongue, all over your mouth.
Savour the flavors – what are they? Strong or weak? Clean or musty? Herbal? Woody? Floral? Chemical? Fruity? Spicy?
Take note of the ‘mouth-feel’. The mouth-feel refers to both the texture and the intensity of the spirit. It describes the 'weight' or 'thickness' and can vary from a very light, thin, dry, fresh sensation, through creamy and warm to very thick, heavy, rich and full.