In general, beverages descriptions come across as snobby buffoonery.
I detect a hint of kumquat on the nose. Says the guy who couldn’t pick out a kumquat from the grocery store.
I’m picking up a hint of grapefruit, ginger, and some freshly mowed grass on the mid-palate. When’s the last time you mowed the lawn? You live in an apartment building.
I get a hint of sweetness, like the first drop of morning dew brushed with honeysuckle and a hummingbird’s love song. Someone should elbow you in the crotch.
Don’t get me wrong. There is definitely an art and science to tasting. Beverages have distinct, perceptible characteristics and flavors, many of which leap from the glass. What bothers me is the general assumption that beverage tasting should be a pompous and esoteric exercise. How do we expect people to learn about how a wine (or beer or spirit) smells and tastes if we shroud the process in mystery and pretentious non-words? We need to demystify the tasting process to have any hope of convincing people to trust their palates and break free from the their habitual purchases of Heineken (If craft breweries used green bottles do you think more people would buy them? But, I digress…). I had just such an experience this Monday courtesy of Bombay Sapphire Brand Ambassador, Andrew Mirabito.
Andrew came to Hawaii to judge the Bombay Sapphire / GQ Most Inspired Bartender competition and I had the pleasure of tasting a few of his versions of classic gin cocktails, listening to him speak about the origins of gin and the production methods of Bombay Sapphire, and sitting through the Bombay Sapphire tasting of all time. Let me tell you, a lecture is significantly more pleasant when the subject is alcohol, doubly so when it involves drinking copious amounts of gin. Contrary to popular belief, writing about booze isn’t always a grind.
I learned that Bombay Sapphire is made up of ten botanicals, separated into four unique categories.
- High Notes: Bright & Fresh flavors (juniper berries, lemon peel, coriander)
- Mid Notes: Light & Warm spices (liquorice, almonds, cassia bark)
- Low Notes: Earthy & Aromatic flavors (orris, angelica root)
- Echoes: Floral, Pepper & Spice finish (cubeb berries, grains of paradise)
In order to help us pick out each flavor, Andrew supplied botanical kits, which contained small samples of each of the ten ingredients. We got to compare each botanical to a small sample of distilled spirit infused with the aromatic, allowing us to isolate the flavor and get a sense of what it imparted to the spirit. Some of them have a large bold impact – the juniper and lemon peel jump out of the glass and the cubeb berries adds an undeniable spicy kick to the finish – and others simply provide a well rounded flavor profile – if you can detect a solid almond flavor from a shot of Bombay Sapphire I think you could get a job as a drug dog – but when you compare the finished product to the individual flavors, you understand each flavor’s unique place in the drink.
The lecture was an eye opening experience and one that deserves to be shared with other alcohol enthusiasts. I don’t think I’d be able to pick out any of the ingredients blind tasting – Is that a hint of cassia bark on the nose? – but I have a much better sense of the flavor of Bombay Sapphire and the unique character each of the ten ingredients provides.
So, the next time you’re pouring yourself a Sapphire Martini, find the jar of coriander hidden in the back of your spice rack from the last time you made Indian food and see if you can detect a hint of the subtle spice lingering somewhere in the aromatics of the gin. If you have some dried lemon peel, marvel how the bitter sweet aromatic hangs over the top of the alcohol. Each of the ten ingredients is hanging out in the complex, spicy nose of Bombay Sapphire, waiting for you to find it. Just please, whatever you do, don’t act like a pompous ass when you tell someone you taste the cubeb berries on the finish.