oz sip, use at minimum a 0.75 oz sample cup; if you’re pouring 0.5 oz, go with 1.5 oz and so on.
WATER AND ICE Ideally, all tastings should have drinking water available for the guests. In an informal tasting, it can be behind the counter and served as needed. In a short seated tasting, it can be on the tables for guests to pour themselves. In a longer tasting, especially with guests you want to impress (trade, media), have it pre-poured when they sit or, better yet, give each guest a bottle of purified water. Make sure any water you use is purified; tap water usually has enough unpleasant smelling and offtasting chemicals that it can confuse the taster about the true flavor of your spirit. Pack purified bottled water to off-site tastings if you need to. Water droppers can be used to “open” spirits by breaking the alcohol clusters and freeing trapped aromatics. It’s a good idea to have some on hand for both informal and formal tastings. Heavy dilution can aid novice spirit drinkers by reducing the alcohol burn. Ice accomplishes opening the spirit while chilling, which also reduces alcohol burn. Ice chips are often useful, especially when guests are able to use them themselves.
WRITTEN AND VISUAL GUIDES Official written tasting notes, especially those connecting production elements to flavors, are useful for all types of tasting guests. Ideally, tasting notes should include color (for barrel-aged spirits and liqueurs), legs, nose/aroma, mouthfeel or texture, front palate, mid-palate and finish. Tasting notes are most helpful for written learners who can reference them as they taste. Visual guides might be flavor maps or wheel
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charts, production diagrams highlighting how flavors are generated or iconographic references. They’re invaluable for visual learners who use them to understand flavor balance and connect flavors to production. Like tasting notes, each of your products should have different visual flavor guides. Avoid using existing category-generic visual flavor guides as they don’t assist in positioning your products uniquely within the category and instead make your products’ flavors seem generic. Crafting your products’ tasting notes and drafting visual aids create a prime opportunity to develop and hone your flavor message. Here you can also reinforce differences among your products. Why does your fall gin taste different than the spring release? How does your four-year-old whiskey taste different than your two-year? Plus, they’re a great addition to tasting mats and can function as keepsakes.
AROMATIC AND CULINARY AIDS Because your goal is an experience of the flavor of your product, tasting and palate aids can be used to enable the tasters to develop short-term palate memory. Most folks have a terrible time putting a word to a flavor. Aromatic aids are an easy addition to tastings, and a quick whiff will generate a verbally-associated palate memory which can then be detected in the spirit. Food pairings introduce a whole new level of sensory delight to a tasting. Full pairing dinners are fantastic, but isolating food elements works equally well. Whiskey and dark chocolate? Not only is it enjoyable just as a pairing, the dark chocolate will bring out the smokiness and spice notes in the spirit. This process is called “reflection” in culinary terms, and it deepens the
experience (and therefore, the taster’s relationship with your spirit and brand) in a way nothing else can. Aromatic and culinary aids are best organized into a logical progression. Nose/ front palate/finish, clustering within a primary flavor category (sweet, versus spice, versus fruit-floral, for example) or associating with production points (grainderived to botanical to wood for a barrelaged gin) makes it easier for guests to track the tasting. Note that this type of shortterm palate memory usually lasts less than 30 seconds so don’t delay going from the reference aid to your spirit!
PROPS Props make a tasting more visually interesting and can reinforce aspects of your brand messages. BOTTLE PROPS: The tasting guide must have bottle props available. Tasting guests need a visual connection to the spirit they are drinking for two reasons: first, to associate the product flavor with the brand and, second, to be able to remember to pick up a bottle of any products they fancy on their way out. Often guests will want to take pictures of bottles they really like. PRODUCTION PROPS: Understanding how spirits are made is easier with a little showand-tell. Props have their uses in a posttour tasting as a reinforcement of the prior experience, but can completely transform tastings outside the distillery. Traditionally, spirits production is communicated through six steps or “sources of flavor:” water, sugar, fermentation, distillation, maturation (if applicable) and presentation (batching and proofing). Your props are another opportunity to reinforce what’s
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