How to drink like a pro:
Whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila or brandy (no matter your preferred spirit) how you choose to drink can significantly alter your appreciation for the juice in your glass. There are several factors to consider that may influence your overall experience. By paying close attention to your sight, smell, and taste you can better understand what’s in your glass.
Usually the biggest thing to look for when tasting is color. Brown generally means barrel-aged while clear means straight from the still. Clear spirts typically apply to vodka, gin, unaged rum and young tequila. As a general rule the darker the spirit, the longer it has spent in the barrel or the newer the barrel (bourbon uses new American oak, while most scotches and Irish Whiskies reuse old barrels). In the category of brown spirits are whiskey, brandy, aged rum and aged tequila. There are some exceptions to this such as aged rums that have had the color filtered out.
When smelling a spirit it is important to start with the right glass. A small tulip glass, such as the Glencairn, will allow you to nose the glass without overdoing it. We try to stay away from snifters which can often overstimulate and burn the nostrils.
The way you choose to smell your spirit is entirely up to you and can vary from one spirit category to the next. We like to start by covering the glass for a short period of time before raising it to the chin to detect any lighter notes. After that, you can slowly bring your glass to your nose taking notes as it approaches the top lip and again with your nose fully in the glass.
There are a wide variety of smells you can pick up from nosing the drink, we find it best to try and nail down any scents that immediately come to mind. The internet is always a helpful tool in comparing notes, browse around and see what others have to say. If your sense of smell feels a little overwhelmed and you can’t pick up anything new, take a whiff of some loose coffee beans to refresh your nose.
There are many opinions on how to taste. Multiple tastes, adding drops of water, swirling, chewing, swishing like mouthwash, breathing while in your mouth. And at every tasting you’re likely to hear different things. We feel the most important thing to remember while drinking a high proof spirit is to respect the proof. Spirits are simply consolidated alcohol from fermented drinks, most commonly beer and wine. If you think along those terms your spirit is usually 4-10 times as strong as the wine or beer you’re accustomed to and you should alter your portion appropriately. Take small sips that you allow to roll over your tongue while looking for the tastes you recognize.
There are often many distinct flavors to detect, one common distinguisher is whether the spirit burns or warms. Good distilling practices result in a nice warming effect while distilleries that don’t remove the harsher “heads” will produce spirits that burn.
Now that you have the basics, you should taste often and comparatively. There are many bars that offer flights as an option. But a good bartender or one committed to your overall experience will often allow you a 1 oz pour of different spirits so you can compare and discover personal preference. Asking for a taste is typically welcome, but feel out your bartender, be sure not to abuse the privilege and as always, tip appropriately.
Once you learn how to approach spirits you’ll start to unearth a go-to. There is a wide world of unique spirits that have beautiful nuances from smoky mezcals to exotic and earthy cachaças. Often these unique notes come from time-tested local techniques and if looked at with appreciation, patience and care can delivery experiences that help submerge you into timeless cultures and far off places.