Spirits tastings are a great place to enjoy and learn about new spirits, but the huge selection and tasting etiquette can be overwhelming even for seasoned pros. Here are a few helpful tips for getting the most from your experience.
How to Navigate a Spirits Tasting
1. Plan ahead:
With so many spirits on offer, it’s a good idea to have a look at the list of spirits available and make a game plan ahead of time. Note in your festival booklet which products you’d like to try, and in which order.
Keep in mind that you’ll discover the most flavours and aromas by starting with lighter tasting sprits and finishing with more flavorful or aromatic products. Here are some strategies for deciding which products to add to your list:
- Start at the beginning: if you’re a new to the world of spirits, try tasting one product from each category; vodka, tequila, rum, whiskey, bourbon and scotch. This method will give novices an introduction to the major differences between each type of spirit. Once you find a category you enjoy, dig a little deeper!
- Horizontal tasting: This method compares spirits that are similar in character but from different distilleries. For example, try contrasting a few 10-year-old single malt scotches from different areas of Scotland.
- Vertical Tasting: This strategy compares spirits of different ages or aging methods from a single distillery. For example, try tasting Highland Park 10-year-old and then try the 18-year-old to discover the difference 6 years aging can make.
2. Look, Smell and Taste:
Take the time to really examine every sample you try. Hold the glass up to the light; what’s the color and clarity like? Give the glass a swirl, get your nose in the glass and inhale deeply; what are the aromas? Take a sip and let it sit on your taste buds, swish it around let it linger; what do you taste? What’s the mouthfeel like? Finally, after you swallow or spit, what flavours linger? Keep your festival booklet handy, jot down any impressions beside the product listing and try rating every product you taste on a scale of 1 to 10.
3. Pace Yourself:
This is the only time spitting in public is socially acceptable, and for good reason. Even the small samples poured at tastings can add up quickly, so while it’s ok to swallow, it’s also ok to use the buckets provided to dispose of extra spirits. Take a sip, enjoy the aromas and flavours, spit back into your glass, then pour it all the bucket provided. Rinse your glass with fresh water and repeat. Make sure you drink lots of water and have a snack or two.
4. Be adventurous and ask questions:
While it’s tempting to stick with what you already know you love, now is a great time to branch out and try new things. Knowledgeable staff are available at each table to guide you through your tasting, answer questions, offer opinions and make recommendations. Not sure of the difference between blended and single malt scotch? They can help with that.
5. Take a cab home:
Always drink responsibly. Plan ahead for a designated driver or keep a phone number for a cab handy.