There is so much to learn and experience at Tales of the Cocktail. I have tons of notes, and am trying to finally get some info up on the blog!!
This tasting seminar, taught by Jared Brown and Eric Fossard, has some good tips. I’ve added a few extra tidbits here and there, too. If you want to learn to sample liquors like a pro, read on:
- Start with lighter, less flavorful spirits. For example, begin tasting vodkas, then move to gins, then up to rums and scotches. You get the idea…
- When tasting, use more than your sense of taste. Use your eyes first. Like with wine, look at the “legs” of the spirits (how it runs down the sides of the glass after swirling). Note the thickness of the liquid, which contributes to the “mouth feel.”
- When you put your nose above the glass to smell the “nose” of the spirit, Take one preliminary whiff to clear the olfactory senses. Then, smell it again, with your mouth open, and pay attention to the aromas. If your eyes water from the alcohol, blow into the glass once to clear the fumes, then swirl and smell again. Most of “taste” comes from the aroma (just think of why everything is tasteless when you have a cold)
- When you’re ready to taste, take a little of the spirit into the front of your mouth, first, then let it run to the back, to clear the palate. Now, take another sip, and breathe out across it. The alcohol comes right off with the exhale, and you are able to taste it.
- Taste is part nature and part nurture. While some people have naturally sensitive palates, we can all learn to discern certain qualities in food / wine / spirits.
- Keep in mind that while good spirits warm the throat and mouth, bad spirits burn.
Cheap booze binds its taste to your tongue. Pay a little extra for the good stuff, and you may suffer less the following day. Also, drink one glass of water per alcoholic beverage. This will help keep you hydrated, which lessens the effect of a nasty hangover!
Here are some notes from our tasting session. Up first: Vodka!
Note: Frozen vodka was good for early vodkas which were less refined. The cold help cover the flavor and lessen the ‘burn.’ A good vodka should be savored and experienced at room temperature.
Also, many vodkas have sugar added. Less than 2% is considered “legal.”
- Absolut is lightest, made in the Scandinavian style. It is also the first vodka to step up and call itself a top shelf vodka. It brought about the concept of high-end spirits. This is a wheat based vodka.
- Reyka is less sweet than absolut. Has a mineral character, “stoniness”comes from filtration through lava rock. (also charcoal – purifies it) With vodka, 3-4 distillations is optimal. More than that strips vodka of all its flavor. This is a wheat based vodka.
- In Russia, they are now making a law that vodka must come from wheat. Although, vodka can be made from anything as long as it is distilled up to 90%. And, as we have all noted, the vodka market is very aggressive, doing all sort of new things to capture our imagination, tastebuds and pocketbooks!
- With Stoli, we noticed incease in pepper notes, increase in sweetness, and more mouth feel. It is rounder, smoother (contains glycerine)
- Potato vodkas generally a bit sweeter but are very hard to make because there is a 50/50 chance as to whether potato will fermetnt or rot
- Imperia sharper than stoli, It follows the recipe standardized in 1894.
- Ciroc is a French “premium” vodka. Big lemon aroma comes through as soon as you bring the glass to your nose. Also, on the tongue - big lemon. Jared points out, “This is great with a squeeze of fresh lemon, a little simple syrup and you’ve got a great lemon drop.”
Note: Trying to make Gin with fresh juniper berries is a bad idea! They have to be dried for 6 – 18 months, which condenses down the pleasant oils.
- Plymouth has a very floral balance. Strong juniper comes through right away. A London gin is very citrus, and drier. Legend has it that the Mayflower travelers sailed with more alcohol than water on their ships. They ended up in Plymouth by accident because they were on their way to Virginia but ran out of booze.
Note: When making gin cocktails, if the gin is too intense, you can use a little vodka to dilute it. Conversely, take any vodka drink and use gin for an extra kick.
Most of us are familiar with the Puerto Rican rum style - sweet, caramel, vanilla.
Note: Rums are made from sugar cane.
Note: Light to dark is not an indication of flavor in rums. Some lighter rums can be more refined and have richer flavor than some dark ones.
- 10 Cane is from the French side of the Caribbean. Aged in light wood. Oak is used in 90% of wood aging. How does it work? The spirit soaks into the wood, which is where it gets its flavor. When warm, the liquid expands into the wood. When it pulls back, it brings along the flavors. Wood has 175+ flavors, most of which are vanillas. The caramel notes come from charring the barrel, which “caramelizes” the wood.
- Cruzan Estate Diamond rum – Jared shares, “Tasting this, I had an epiphany, and an immediate love.” Underlying caramal and banana. Aged for 2 years.
- Cruzan Estate Dark Rum is sweeter smoother richer on the palate. Underlying walnut. Butterscotch. The aging process refines it. Aged 5 years.
- Note: If rum is aged too long, it has more cognac characters than rum ones. The sharpest flavors are also the ones which dissipate the most quickly.
- Rum Clement – aged 5 years. Already has a cognac qualities.
- Rhum clement XO – Pour it into a brandy snifter you could fool a lot of people into thinking it’s a cognac. Priced to compete with cognacs. Jared says that it could even stand up a to a cigar better than a cognac.
- Captain Morgan Private Stock Rum from rums of Puerto Rico is sweetened, spiced. (By spiced we mean “vanilla-ed”) Less refined and less expensive than Rhum Clement, but very fruity and fun! Still a great product, it’s a matter of how you’re using it and what your taste is at the moment.