Tuesday, 22 September 2015

How to taste Gin and build up a strong flavour memory

You have just purchased a new bottle of Gin and you are excited to get stuck in and have a few G&Ts, and rightly so. However before you dive on in I would suggest that you get to understand this Gin and where it fits compared with other Gins. This knowledge base will make the whole Gin drinking experience so much more enjoyable. First of in order to get a clear picture of the Gins taste you need to have a frame of reference I suggest picking 3-4 other Gins and trying your new Gin back to back with these other gins.

Trust me this is half the fun of Craft Gin and what better way to spend an evening/afternoon.
One of the best things about Gin is that once its opened you can simply put it back into the cupboard ready for next time. This makes it ideal for regular taste and compare sessions allowing you to build up a strong flavour memory/patchwork to reference and allowing you to better understand the gin category as a whole

Here are my suggestions on how to do this admittedly if you don't have a big selection of Gins you may have to combine with a friends collection or simply buy a few more bottles, trust me it will be worth it. Also check out this earlier post A Botanical Adventure if you want to get an idea about what to buy.

1) Pick the Gin
If you have an idea of the flavour profile of your new Gin then you can tailor your session by using gins that have similar profiles. However if you are unsure what the flavour is going to be like I suggest choosing 3-4 gins, at-least 2 that you are very familiar with and drink regularly perhaps one that you think might have a similar profile and another wild card gin something that you haven’t tried in a while just to mix things up a bit. Trust me as you taste the gin for the first time this number can quickly expand as your brain puts together links and similarities with other Gins in your flavour memory.

2) Taste neat
Find yourself some good tulip shaped glassware, wine glasses are perfect for this job. Pour a small amount of each gin into a glass. You might want to grab a glass of water here to help with the spirit heat or just to rinse your mouth if your taste buds start to get overwhelmed.
                Start of by smelling each spirit individually starting with your new gin you will quickly be able to tell which gins have more prominent aroma and this is often a good sign that the gin will also have good flavour intensity but can also sometimes be misleading.     
Now taste each gin individually starting with the new gin then go back over each gin in a different order continue tasting each gin in ever changing orders. Taste slowly there is no rush take your time and savor the spirit, roll it around and warm it up in your mouth to let more aromatics out.

3) Taste mixed
Step 3 is necessary to see if the Gin opens up more when mixed. Sometimes diluting a spirit can bring out a whole new level of flavours to your spirit. This may be because the added dilution decreases the heat making it easier to taste or some gins simply tend to open up more when mixed particularly proper craft distilled gins with no added flavours.
Many will suggest that you use water for this step and feel free to do so but I prefer to use tonic because it tastes better and more closely approximates how you will probably be drinking your gin. I use Schweppes tonic as I find this generally works with the widest range of Gins feel free to choose your favourite but make sure you always stick to the same mixer in the future.
                As before add 1 measure of each gin to your glass then add an equal measure of your tonic/water as you prefer. A 1:1 mix will allow the spirit to open up without diluting it too much so that you can’t taste the nuance in the Gin. If using water you may prefer to use only a half measure to a full measure of gin.
                Use the same method as described in step 2 the only difference here is that you also want to check for any clouding, this means that your gin is heavy in essential oils the building blocks of good gin, you will probably find that these gins also have very strong flavour intensity.

4) Review (This is really done as you are tasting but here is what to look out for)
From this experience you will get an idea of 2 things
a) Flavour profile: Was it piny, citrusy, spicy, floral or maybe something else entirely
b) Flavour intensity: This can be quite a surprise some gins you will find have very low flavour while others seem to pop out, this will give you a good idea of how well this gin will work in cocktails and mixed drinks.

Note: you may notice that where a gin is particularly strong in one particular flavour it will negate that particular flavour in the other gins you are tasting. This is good it allows you to taste more clearly the other flavours in a gin that might otherwise have been to subtle for you to perceive properly. As an example tasting a juniper heavy gin as one of your selection will allow you to perceive the other spicy/citrus/floral elements in your other Gins. You may wish to choose gins that are strong in particular flavours in your selection for exactly this reason.

To conclude once you have done this a few times with a few different groups of Gins you will start to build up a patchwork of flavour memories which will give you a good overview of the Gin category as a whole and allow you to better place where a gin fits within the overall scheme of the category. This will also help you in your journey to discover what styles of Gin you really like and help you spot poor quality Gin.

And don’t forget to share with friends tasting sessions are always more enjoyable in small groups so you can compare notes and help each other understand what you are tasting.

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