How to Taste Spirits (Part 2)

Throughout Part one of this two-part series on “How to Taste,” we learned that tasting a new spirit is like getting to know a new lover. You introduce yourself with intention and get to know it slowly. We explored the importance of visual and aromatic characteristics, but we didn’t actually taste anything.

When I met my current partner, we didn’t go on our first date until three weeks after we first met. Instead, we talked. We got to know each other, and the excitement for that inevitable first date built. That’s how I feel about the second part in this series. The excitement has been building for a week so now, please, pour yourself a dram and get cozy—turn the lights down a bit, put some light jazz on, and let’s taste some f*cking whisk(e)y.

Once you’ve visually and aromatically analyzed what’s in your glass, bring the spirit to your lips and take a small sip—allow this sip to pour across your palate so your palate may better acclimate. Draw it across and under your tongue and across your gums. Allow your palate to get used to the proof of the spirit. I like to call this sip your primer.

Now that you’ll be able to identify more specific flavors without being overwhelmed by proof, take a larger sip of the spirit in your glass. Allow it to hit all points on your tongue and inner cheeks. Note what you’re tasting—be as specific as you can. Is what you smelled reflected in what you’re tasting? Instead of using words like smooth or harsh, try to identify exactly what is making you jump to those descriptors.

After you’ve swallowed the spirit, how long does the flavor stick around on your palate? We call this the finish. After you swallow, start counting seconds in your head until flavors start to disappear. The higher the number of seconds, the longer the finish.

Now this is where the magic happens and your filtered or distilled water comes into play. Water changes the tasting experience of each spirit dramatically. Full disclosure, this could be a wonderful and eye-opening change or possibly an unpleasant one. This is why we start with a small amount of a spirit when tasting analytically. Again, you can always (and I encourage you to) pour yourself a little more later.

Using your water dropper (if you have one) or your clean finger (just dip your finger into your water and use it to transport the water drop by drop), add just one drop of water to your spirit. Swirl your glass ever so gently, you don’t want to aggravate the alcohol too much, and after your spirit settles repeat the tasting process again. Do you smell anything different? Are those aromatics transporting you somewhere (see Part one for an explanation as to why sensory memories are important to the tasting process)? Is it maybe not so much different, but rather more nuanced? Richer perhaps? Are you tasting anything different? Anything additional to what you tasted before? Do you like it more? Less? A post explaining the dramatic effect of water in distilled spirits will come at a later date, I promise.

Make an effort to note what you’re tasting, either by putting pen to paper or in your head. Making tasting associations with specific expressions of a spirit can really pay off in the long run and you’ll get to learn what exactly you like faster.

Now that you’ve tasted your spirit analytically,
it caught your eye,
you introduced yourself,
you got to know it a little better,
you’ve experienced it,
add more water, ice, soda, etc. or leave it neat so that you can enjoy what is in your glass the way you prefer.

There is no wrong way to enjoy a spirit.

Let me say that again.

There is no wrong way to enjoy a spirit.

If you’re enjoying something the way you prefer it, it is the right way for you. However, when you take the time to get to know a spirit and walk through the steps outlined above, you may find that you’ll have a greater appreciation for what is in the bottle in front of you and further, you may find that you don’t want to add anything but a drop or two of water. It’s entirely up to you.

Drink what you like, how you like, and as always don’t forget to share with friends.

Cheers my dears.