The Right Way To Taste Gin
The best thing about being the Distiller at The Old Curiosity Distillery is whenever I make a new gin, I always have the privilege of tasting it first.
We make so many different gins for so many different customers and I’ll always taste each one before bottling; this ensures we maintain the expected quality. To do this, I use a system based on the organoleptic sensory labs I attended at university; for this example, I’ll describe tasting our Wild Gin.
The Preparation The scientific method to sample a gin is starting with a decent measure (50ml minimum) to a whisky glass, raise it to the light to check it’s clear and free of suspended particles and then give it a swirl around.
The drive-by sniff Firstly, I’ll slowly waft the glass past my nose from right to left while inhaling gently. This is to give my senses an idea of what to expect.
The One second sniff Next, I put my nose in the glass for one second then pull away. Spirits can overwhelm the senses so again, I’m doing this for a short spell to let my nose know what’s coming up. In this stage I’ll be looking to detect some of the foremost botanicals, with juniper usually leading the way.
The Two seconds sniff, then taste Lastly, I stick my nose in the glass for two seconds then take a big sip. The bog myrtle and sweet cicely usually come through on this longer sniff. I’ll roll it around my mouth for a few seconds and see what flavours I can pick up before swallowing; I’ll be looking for a good mouthfeel and a lingering finish at this stage too. Knowing what was in the still always feels like cheating at this point so I tend to have a tasting buddy or three going through it with me; I like having as many on the tasting panel as I can because we’ll all detect different things (plus gin is better shared)
I find the above procedure allows my nose and taste buds to get used to the gins without being overwhelmed with the ethanol. Once it’s tasted neat, I’ll add a splash of water just to release more esters and note how the flavour profile changes or, in the case of a completely new gin, to see if I can detect anything else. Most of the surprises come through at this point and luckily most of them (so far) have been good…
Then it’s time to make a classic G&T: I’ll add ice, more gin and the lightest tonic I can find. I seldom add garnish – I find that there are more than enough aromas and flavours in our gins already (particularly in the Wild Gin) and adding a slice of lemon will just make the G&T taste and smell of lemon. I usually make my gins on the understanding that 99% of our customers will be trying it with tonic so it’s important that the botanical balance allows for this; this final G&T taste gives me an idea of how it’ll perform in the wild.