So i thought i’d rush back from yesterdays tasting and give you the lowdown on a tasting i attended as quick as possible before i head into the bank holiday weekend and a whole heap of cocktails! Forgetting what i tasted in the process!
I find the experience of doing a spirit tasting at once infuriating and wholly enjoyable. There are reasons for this of course. For one, every tasting is led by someone different for a different product and they all have their own way of presenting, guiding you through the process and helping you ‘discover’ their spirit. The way to nose, to cut or not to cut, how long to ‘hold’ the -spirit before swallowing or spitting – there are often similarities in the way they are done but there is an issue which i think often detracts from the experience.
The problem produces a swing and roundabout effect. Firstly, the leader of the tasting genuinely wants you to get the most out of their training session and has a plan and structure for his/her message. This means that there is an order in which things are done and a certain amount of explanation seems always necessary (bearing in mind different levels of experience in a group when tasting spirits). The process of doing this ends up making people so focused on the process and ritualism of tasting that they lose the willingness to let themselves get carried away with the product and describe not only its flavours but its character and charm. After all, describing food and drink is a romantic, linguistic effort and should be practised at all times (is this not how we sell to our customers…?). So what you are left with is an experience overly focused on process and less on taste, flavour and aroma.
1. Always follow the leader. The person conducting the tasting does do this for a living and has spent time developing their style/method. Honour that by adhering to how they want to do things. Just make sure you follow the next few steps as well as whatever they may ask you to do.
2. Don’t kill your nose! There is a tendency to over smell spirits when nosing. All alcohols have volatile esthers which will kill your olfactory gland for minutes at a time making it even more tricky to pick out those flavours.
Make sure you are aware of how many things you need to taste and thaat you can give your nose a break. And keep your mouth open! This helps deaden the effect of the volatiles and also introduces tongue flavour receptors which helps identify aromas. Also, if you are struggling, sniff your skin or some coffee beans, this will ‘reset’ your nose somewhat.
3. Name those flavours and take note of where things happen. Just like cocktail/wine tasting, sprits flavours should travel around your tongue. you are looking for balance and expression. Does sweetness hit you up front? Are there nice bitter notes at the back of the tongue or is the spirit harsh? Leave it a minute or two, dont get sidetracked and just experience the finish. Do flavours continue/change/develop…? Write every experience down and don’t worry too much about getting things right. Keep whatever you like to yourself but try to share your experience.
4. Cut it down! Once you are happy that the tasting is over, if it -hasn’t already been done, cut the alcohol with water before you finish it. Re-taste everything noting any discernable differences. Where we may taste something quite specific at first, maybe after dilution quite a different character will come out which is vital when considering a spirit for a cocktail!
It may sound like i’ve just been to a bad one! However, i had been fortunate enough to be invited, again by the team at Callooh Callay, to a tasting of Angostura Rums and Bitters. I had work later that day for an event so i’d have been a fool to turn down a little rum beforehand!
The annoying thing is, i turned up a little late and didn’t actually get the reps name (anyone who reads this and knows, please message me!), however, he was very well mannered, calm and not too fussy with the processes which really helped and made it a fun session.
Firstly, we were taken through the bitters, both the aromatic and the orange. Tasted by sucking on a sugar cube dashed with them, they were lovely, as they always are. However, there were some points of trivia i didn’t know…
The recipe has that wonderfully romantic story of only being known by 3 people and even then, they only know one part of the recipe (this is often said about gins too though the reality i find hard to believe, still why spoil the romance and a good yarn!). I love the idea of those 3 all being at the same party, having a few rum n gingers and just blurting out their part to the others!
The process is by cold maceration in steel vats and then is transferred to wooden casks and regularly churned. Beyond that, details are restricted, or so i am told :) Interestingly too, before i move to the rums, the Orange flavours carry the aromatic bitters and a base, then yet more flavouring material is added to make their characteristic bitter orange flavour. Suffice to say the base spirit for both is Rum, though you knew that!
Oh, and to put matters to rest. The Angostura shortage was NOT due to financial difficulties, governmental influence or a shortage of Angostura Bark (indeed i just found out there isn’t any Angostura Bark in the recipe!) – just a handful of explanations I had previously been given. Rather, there was a shortage of bottles because of the company who made the glass. Suffice to say, all is back to normal and large UK stockists are back to normal.
So the rums!
My favourite for the day, and the first, was the Angostura Reserva (3yr). The majority of rums in these blends are actually aged in ex Jack Daniel’s casks which was definately noticeable in this rum. Charcoal filtered for clarity (i.e. wood colour had been removed so the rum clear), it had a light honey and maple aroma with very feint hints of smoke. On the taste, it was all maple sweetness upfront, a light dry finish with a nice alcohol bite, rounded with vanilla and coconut. Complex for such a light rum.
The 5 year had a great nose but i think was a little boring on the palate. All yummy vanilla and butter with hints of tobacco and cinnamon on the nose but with a taste profile that was a little one dimensional. The sweetness of the vanilla, for me, blew out any other noted that may have been there. Others enjoyed it so dont take my word for it, try some.
The 7 year was also fantastic but not quite as cool as the Reserva (thats right, i called it cool!). The smoke i picked up earlier had intensified and became slightly bitter, like a piece of burned christmas cake, but with that vanilla sweetness still and a deep chocolate and molasses flavour on the finish which just went on for ages. A great rum.
We finished with the 1919 and i have to say that although i quite enjoy the lightness of this rum, it is this overwhelming vanilla that irritates me. I can see that that is the reason why so many people love rums like this, and Havana Club Barrel Proof for that matter. I find intense vanilla in rums quite difficult/boring to work with in cocktails and i certainly don’t enjoy them neat. Thats the beauty of drinking though. there will be people reading this thinking ‘are you insane? 1919 is awesome’ to whom i’ll say, lets move on, i’ll get the next ones and mine is a Gin!