How to Taste Spirits
Tasting Spirits is a full-time passion for many. More than ever people are drinking Spirits neat. It’s not just Whiskey anymore. Today in bars and taverns around the world you can find eager patrons sipping Rum, Agave Spirits, Brandy (of course), Vodka, as well as every style of Whiskey imaginable.
As always you should learn to taste Spirits to heighten your understanding of the various aromatic and flavor profiles to better know what you like and to be articulate what you like. Tasting Spirits should never interfere with your enjoyment of drinking Spirits straight or in cocktails – NEVER!
When tasting observation is king. All of your senses are employed.
With Spirits we have to start with one vital point – we must modify the tasting procedures we have learned for both Wine and Beer. Spirits are pretty high in alcohol with most Spirits styles (categories) starting out at 40% alcohol-by-volume (ABV). For a quick comparison most wine is bottled between 11 to 15% alcohol and most Beers are comfortably below 6% ABV. In simple terms, give Spirits a healthy dose of respect or they will knock you out!
The Step to Tasting Spirits
Appearance – Now give it a look. What’s the color? Is it clear or cloudy? Most spirit types other than Liqueurs will appear with absolute clarity. The site of sediment in Spirits is largely a thing of the past. A beautiful amber color will likely indicate that your Spirit has been aged in wood. Bright pastels can be found in many Liqueurs while major categories such like Vodka and Gin will be as clear as water (unless they are of the flavored variety).
Aromatics – Now it’s time to get your olfactory involved. Most of what we consider to be “taste” actually happens in the aromatics via the olfactory. It may be necessary to agitate or swirl the Spirit a bit to get some liquid splashed up on the sides that can quickly and easy evaporate sending vapors of precious Spirit to your nose.
Unlike wine and Beer do not be tempted to take in a deep inhale. Remember, this Spirit is likely at least 40% ABV and it will pack a punch. Instead simply open your mouth a bit and gently draw in some air. This will cause your nose to gently draw air as well bringing the aromatics of the Spirit upward. This is all that is required to get a good aromatic impression of your Spirit.
Take a mental note of what you are perceiving. Is it fruity (what kinds of fruit), do you find spices, or coffee, or wood, or anything that you can imagine? What you are smelling should be confirmed by what you will be tasting on your palate.
Flavors – Does the flavor confirm the aromatics? Is it spot on or have one of the attributes discovered while nosing taken the lead position. Is it sweet or dry? Is a generous portion of acid present revealing itself by activating your salivary glands? This is all part of the process. How about the texture? Is it rich and creamy or is it dry and vibrant being more refreshing than mouth-filling.
Make at least mental notes if not physical notes to act as a reference to other Spirits you have or will encounter. This is vital and will serve you well as you seek new Spirits and catalog past Spirits that have won your affections.