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. Which means I have learnt how to taste gin, the right way.
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.
Hopefully this will help you discover how to taste gin!