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Spirits / Liquor Tasting

Learning to appreciate and property distinguish different spirits is a very fulfilling hobby that will take you many years to master. There is much to learn from different blends, to distillation methods, even the different glasses that must be used in each scenario. Whether you prefer scotch, tequila, vodka or any other liquor, there are many great brands and bottlers out there.

Below is a terrific introductory article where you can learn the basics and how to get started. You can help grow our learning community by contributing your knowledge to the article. Just click on the edit tab in the wiki article below.

Use the white subtabs above to navigate the other Spirits & Liquor Tasting resources. We have a Spirits Tasting forum where you can get your questions & doubts answered, a page with tasting how-to videos, a page with the best handpicked links to other sites, and a page with the best Spirits books and products.

Good Luck and Have Fun!
Duncan Davis

 

Introduction


Spirit-tasting is the sensory examination and evaluation of spirits and liquors. Whether making winner cocktails with unique ingredients and some smooth twists or mixing other drinks with these spirits, understanding the basics on how spirits mix and blend is a must. Being a good spirit-taster has some good benefits, from leading to happier and more satisfied people to increased profit sales due to numerous orders. Success in this area lies on properly and distinctly tasting these spirits.




Liquor tasting is a bit different than wine tasting. However, the purpose is the same: finding the flavor you like best. When doing a taste test, the following things are being looked for in liquor: aroma, taste, color, and how it feels on the tongue (the aftertaste). Spirit tasting is a bit subjective, since it varies from person to person.




A distilled beverage, liquor, or spirit is a drinkable liquid containing ethanol that is produced by distilling fermented grain, fruit, or vegetables. This excludes undistilled fermented beverages such as beer, wine, and hard cider. The term hard liquor is often used in the United States to distinguish distilled beverages from undistilled ones.




What to Check



Color


Color depicts the purity and age of a spirit. When the spirit is clear, it is regarded as being pure. When the spirit’s depth is lighter, it is young, whereas when it is darker, it is old.


 



Aroma


Most of the taste sensations come from the nose. If you don’t believe on this, try pouring a small amount of Scotch whisky into your mouth while holding your nose. You may taste it as being salty and sweet, but until that only. When smelling, let the alcohol go past your smell and identify the aromas that associate with it. Naming them might be difficult at first, but as you grow your flavour distinctions, it becomes easier. The most common scents are fruits, flowers, spices, and herbs. Master the flavours and aromas found on them. Know the differences between a cocoa and a chocolate, different fruits (citrus or berries), various spices (nutmeg, cinnamon), and assorted herbs (oregano, thyme). When you encounter a scent that you don’t know, check and discover its origin.


 



Taste


Taste is the easiest part in checking out the spirit, but don’t just taste it. Look for the aftertaste (also known as the finish). The finish can tell you more about the quality of the spirit. Look out for balance.




How to Become a Spirit-Taster


Becoming a spirit-taster can be a difficult process because you need to recognize each aroma, taste, finish, and color to be able to determine the quality of a spirit or liquor. Becoming a connoisseur, however, is a fulfilling one. Not only do you gain more information about the liquor, you also gain status as one of the respected people in the wine and spirit industry because of your expertise.




The first step in spirit tasting is to check the color of the spirit. Is it clear, cloudy, or murky?




The second step in spirit tasting is to smell it. You may swirl it slightly, but wait for a moment before lowering your nose slowly. Swirling also brings out the alcohol from the spirit. As you sniff the spirit, pick out the aromas. Note each aroma and try to check for distinct smells, as each spirit has its unique smell.




The third and most exciting step in spirit tasting is to actually taste it. Pour about an ounce of the spirit into your mouth and observe as it moves around your tongue. Breathe in a bit of air through your clenched teeth. Identify the origin of the spirit (Fruits? Grains?). When you have determined it, spit it out, and then re-taste it.




Finally, check the finish. Is it long-lasting or goes out easily? Is it rich or weak? Even though aged spirits last long, it should be always clean.




It is best to have several liquors and spirits available for spirit tasting. This is to be able to make a distinction on several liquors and spirits and be able to familiarize with the flavours and aromas associated with them.




Different Types of Spirits


Distilled liquors are the base ingredients for the majority of cocktails. Knowing and understanding these differences between various liquors gives us an idea to come up with different combinations of drinks. Each person’s taste is different than others; hence, spirit-tasting is subjective. Found below are examples of liquor that we can try and let our taste be our judge.




Brandy


Brandy (from brandywine, derived from Dutch brandewijn—"burnt wine") is a spirit produced by distilling wine, the wine having first been produced by fermenting grapes. Brandy generally contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink.




In general, there are three types of brandy: Grape brandy is one of the great and best known types of brandy because it is produced from grape juice, is placed in a wooden cask, and is tested by time. The second type of brandy is called a pomace. It is derived from grape seeds, skin, pulp and stem. Pomace is an outcome of fermentation and distillation. Finally, there is the Fruit brandy, which is produced from other fruits which contain pure liquid such as apricots, cherries, apples and peaches.




Brandy Labels:


Brandy has a rating system to describe its quality and condition, these indicators can usually be found near the brand name on the label.




• A.C.- aged 2 years in wood.


• V.S.- "Very Special" or 3-Star, aged at least 3 years in wood.


• V.S.O.P.- "Very Superior Old Pale" or 5-Star, aged at least 5 years in wood.


• X.O.- "Extra Old", Napoleon or Vieille Reserve, aged at least 6 years, Napoleon at least 4 years.


• Vintage- Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.


• Hors D`age: These are too old to determine the age.




Gin


Gin is a spirit whose predominant flavor is derived from juniper berries (Juniperus communis). Although several different styles of gin have existed since its origins, gin is broadly differentiated into two basic legal categories. Distilled gin is crafted in the traditional manner, by re-distilling neutral spirit of agricultural origin with juniper berries and other botanicals. Compound gin is made by simply flavoring neutral spirit with essences and/or other `natural flavorings` without re-distillation, and is not as highly regarded.




To check for the appearance of the gin, hold the glass up to the light and check on the liquid’s color. There might be hints of various hues, as the natural ingredients tend to impart color as well as flavor. In nosing the gin, a simple sniff can tell you whether it is good to sip it. Good gin should show at least some juniper and smell soft and subtle. If a strong chemical was revealed, swirl the drink to release the flavors and smell the gin again. To taste the gin, gently sip it and have it roll around the mouth before you swallow. When you get used to the taste, you will notice an array of flavors from the botanicals. The result should be smooth and creamy on the tongue with a long, soft taste. After that, taste for dryness. When it is oily, the gin is flavored with extracts.




Rum


Rum is the first liquor ever known to the whole world. It was first produced in Brazil, Barbados and Jamaica. What makes the rum different from the other liquors is the use of sugarcane as its main ingredient. The syrup, being derived from the sugarcane, is fermented and is further turned into rum. It is classified as light, gold and dark because of its different features.




To check for the appearance of the rum, swirl it. The darker it is, the longer it has aged. If the rum is mellowed, aged rum can be a pleasure to smell. If it is younger, it might harm yournasal passages. Keep your nose above the glass’ rim for hints of butterscotch, vanilla, and some common flavors of rum. To taste the rum, sip it and savor the flavors. Just like the nose being able to get a number of flavors, so can the tongue.




Tequila


Tequila is most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 proof), but can be produced between 35–55% alcohol content (70–110 proof). Though most tequilas are 80 proof, many distillers will distill to 100 proof and then dilute it with water to reduce its harshness. Some of the more well-respected brands distill the alcohol to 80 proofs without using additional water as diluents. It is common as shooters but also is a great mix for a variety of cocktail like tequila sunrise and margarita.




To check for the appearance of tequila, look for its color. A change of color (yellow to brown) might indicate signs of extensive aging or tell you that caramel coloring was used. When you smell the tequila, smell it beneath the glass. It should have the “agave intensity”, indicating the amount of agave found in it. To taste the tequila, see if it can deliver the same intensity as it had when you smelled it. If the taste is short, numb, medicinal, or bitter, the tequila will not be among the best.




Vodka


Vodka is a distilled beverage and one of the world`s most popular liquors. It is composed primarily of water and ethanol with traces of impurities and flavorings. Vodka is made from fermented substances like grain and potatoes.




The word "vodka" was recorded -for the first time in 1405 in the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland; at these times the word referred to medicines and cosmetics. A number of Russian pharmaceutical lists contain the terms "vodka of bread wine" and "vodka in half of bread wine “As alcohol had long been used as a basis for medicines, this implies that the term vodka could be a noun derived from the verb vodit ’,"to dilute with water".




Originally, vodka was the pride of Eastern Europe. Vodka is made from grain, potatoes, beets, and from a variety of other plants. The sugar produced from the plants, which undergoes fermentation and distillation, is the result of neutral vodka. It does not need to age in wooden casks over a period of time; however, it can be flavored with a variety of fruits and herbs to enhance its color and taste.




Whiskey


Whisky (Scottish English) or whiskey (Irish English) is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different varieties, including barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and maize (corn). Whisky is aged in wooden casks, made generally of white oak, except that in the United States corn whiskey need not be aged.


 




To check for the appearance of the whiskey, hold it against a white background. The darkness of the whiskey indicates the age and the type of wood where the whiskey was stored. If you swirl and found tears forming against the side of the glass, it means that it is rich. To smell it, just raise the glass slowly under your nose. The whiskey’s smell is very rich but not overpowering. To taste it, just take a small sip which should tell you about the flavor used.




Where You Can Learn


There are lots of online sites where you can learn how to do spirit tasting, ranging from average spirit tasting to spirit connoisseurs. There are also spirit tasting events being held several times a year. You should consult your events directory to learn if there are spirit tasting events near your area.




Tips for Spirit tasting


• Pour small amounts of liquor for each tasting. The typical amount can range from half an ounce to one ounce. The higher the amount of liquor being added, the higher the alcohol content that will be received. When the person’s tolerance for alcohol is not that high, he/she may not be able to taste it well.




• Choose a glass where the wine can be well-distinct. The reason why glass is preferred and that it should be stemmed glassware (glass with a rim that curves inward at the top) is because the body heat from the person’s fingers should not warm up the liquor.




• Check more about the liquor by checking the labels. The person can also research more about it through its manufacturer/company’s website or from reviews regarding that spirit.




Spirit/liquor Tasting Benefits


We always watch and hear these words “drink moderately” in every liquor or alcohol drink commercial. We know that drinking too much alcohol is risky for our health. But it’s also an irony that drinking moderately can be good for our health. Ethanol, for instance, is a pure form of alcohol that is found in all alcoholic drinks, and has a positive effect on our heart such as raising the positive cholesterol levels, preventing blood clots, and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Drinking alcohol in a moderate manner can also increase our insulin sensitivity that can hinder diabetes, cancer, and bone loss.




Red wine is on the top of the list when it comes to the benefits it can give to our heart. It has been studied and researched on how red wine contributes to the good conditions of the heart. According to the studies conducted, it is because of the phenol found in the wine. The contents function as an anti-oxidant which can promote cardiovascular health. It also reduces artery spasms which are caused by stress. Research also shows that people from France suffer less heart diseases compared to the people from U.S. Researchers concluded that French drink more red wine then people in United States and that was the reason for the decreased heart diseases.