While this blog will be much broader than tastings, I’m spending the next several posts discussing a gin tasting I hosted a few weeks ago….
The genesis for this tasting began with an impromptu blind vodka tasting at a party I hosted some time back, when I realized I had 7 different types of vodka in my cupboard (never do anything halfway). Ideally vodka is colorless and odorless, so there should be no difference between them at all. If so, I’d be foolish for having 7 of them. Given my track record, I expected to prove this theory correct.
I learned a some surprising things from that tasting. First, there IS a huge difference in taste between vodkas. Since nothing is 100% pure, the small amounts of impurities make a big difference. Some of the vodkas were very smooth, some were sharp, and some tasted like sucking on an unlit match. The winners were also a big surprise. Two very different brands separated from the rest of the field. Belvedere was one of those (not surprising) – Smirnoff was the other (very surprising). Needless to say, Smirnoff has had a place in my liquor cabinet ever since.
Gin is also grain alcohol, distilled with a blend of herbs and botanicals (like juniper, anise, and coriander) which vary between types and brands. So a gin tasting, I said to myself, should be even more interesting. Because gin is served many ways, I decided to taste each gin three ways — in a gin and tonic, straight, and in a gimlet. So I lit up the smoke-signal fire and lined up 10 tasters.
But the date was postponed a couple of times. In the meantime, I had made a few trips to the local ABC store and picked up an interesting selection of gins. And I had a few business trips to Texas and South Carolina, where I’m pretty sure you can still buy anything, and added a few more to my collection. By the time the tasting date rolled around, I had 16 different types of gin in my possession – everything from the traditional Tanquerey and Bombay to Hayman’s Old Tom and a german one called Schlichte which comes in a clay pot.
If you’ve passed 3rd grade math you already know this is 48 mixtures to make and 480 labeled cups to put them in. Not to mention a scorecard so complicated you’d need to buy an iPad for each taster. Even I wasn’t going that far.
Here’s what I did: Solo makes 3 oz plastic bathroom cups that are available in most grocery stores. And your local restaurant supply store will sell you plastic squeeze bottles for under a buck each. After paring the tastings list down to 34 (check out the scorecard to see how), I labeled all the bottles and cups with a sharpie and bought $2 clipboards from Staples.
As much as I like to show off my shaking skills, there was no way I was going to mix all these up as we needed them, and the squeeze bottles were a great way to solve that problem. Especially with the carbonated drinks, I didn’t want to make them too far in advance. But I was easily able to make them all a couple of hours ahead of time and even take the picture above to send to my tasters as an enticement.
Once the tasting was started, we kicked off with each person saying a few things about their experiences and thoughts on gin and what they hoped to get out of the evening. Then we each arranged our own cups and poured and passed the squeeze bottles. I had a jigger for the first pour and from that point we were able to match the heights on the glasses.
2 oz london dry gin
Combine ingredients in shaker, shake for 30 sec+ and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel or wedge
In round 1, we tasted the gins mixed 1:2 with tonic and I provided both lime and cucumber as optional tasting additions. In round 2, we tried the gins chilled and straight, so no recipe there. In round 3, I used the gimlet recipe at right, which I believe comes straight from Eric Felten’s How’s Your Drink column in The Wall Street Journal. I don’t have that original, but I don’t think I may any changes. I like this recipe in general, but especially for this tasting as the reduced Rose’s content allows you to taste more of the gin differences.
We continued this way for the 3 rounds of tastings, with people talking and making notes the whole time. I asked between rounds for a top 2, bottom 1, or other general comments from each round. And at the end of the evening I revealed the gins. There were some big surprises that we’ll discuss in future posts.
But in the meantime some tips for throwing a tasting party:
- Limit the # of liquors you try. 16 was WAY too many. Looking back, 6-8 different gins and 6-8 tasters would have been much more manageable.
- I had a designated photographer and stenographer, and I would recommend it to anybody. Even if you’re not starting a blog, you want to post the photos to Facebook and you can use the notes to help write the summary email you owe your tasters.
- Do your homework: learn about what you’re tasting. After all, if you’ve designated someone to be a stenographer,you’d better be a damned good host.
- Even with fewer tastes, have lots of counter space.
- Make a scorecard. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as mine, but give your tasters some guidance…
- Next time, I will have separate activities between the rounds. Consider it a palate cleanser for the mind.
- Provide a ride home for your guests. Less necessary if you adhere to #1 above, but still a good practice.
And a couple of tips for those attending a tasting party. Especially one of mine:
- Condition your liver ahead of time
- Pack some “Chaser” or at least some Advil
- Drink tons of water the day of the tasting…you don’t want to be tasting hard liquor when you’re dehydrated
Next week, we’ll reveal some of the results and comments from the event…
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Good advice about drinking a lot of water before a tasting. I had never thought about the dehydration bit.