Drinking gin without having to think about it too much is a joy in itself, but if you really want to take your gin appreciation to the next level, here’s a handy guide to tasting like a pro.
Don’t worry if you find it hard to identify smells and tastes to start with – it gets easier with practice (and what fun practice it is!). Also, don’t be put off using the botanicals list on the bottle to help you with identification as you’re getting the hang of it.
You can choose to taste a single gin at a time (your Craft Gin Club Gin of the Month, perhaps?), or you could gather some friends and make an evening of it, selecting a small line-up of gins to compare and contrast together. However you approach it, the main thing to remember is: it should be fun!
STEP 1 - PREPARE
Choose your vessel
There are varying opinions on the best glassware to use when tasting gin – some advocate a rocks glass in order to let the air circulate, others go completely the other way and insist that an inward-curving, stemmed glass (such as a small wine glass) is best, as it captures all the gin aromas without your hands heating up the spirit. In reality, for home tastings, it probably doesn’t matter too much what glass you use – just make sure it’s not too enormous, and that it’s clean!
Get your gin to room temperature before you start (21-23°C) as the flavours and aromas can be affected if it’s too hot or cold. If your gin’s been kept in a chilly corner of the house for example, just pop it on a radiator for a few minutes to warm it through a little. You should also begin the tasting without using any ice, tonic or garnish – but do have some plain water to hand for later.s
You want to be able to make notes about what you’re smelling and tasting – after all, if you get too carried away, your memory might not be that reliable! If you’re tasting with a group of friends or family, it’s also fun to compare notes at the end – you can even ascribe a score to each step and to the overall gin if you want to get really competitive!
Wash your mouth out
Well, not literally, but it is best to make sure you don’t eat strongly flavoured foods such as garlic or chilli – and it goes without saying that chewing gum is a no-no! If you want to cleanse your palate before you start, a sip of cold, weak coffee or even just a little sniff of some fresh coffee beans can help. It sounds weird, but trust us – it’s a trick used by pro-tasters.
STEP 2 – SMELL
Follow your nose
Once you've poured some of your gin into your chosen glass, it’s time to get ‘nosing’ (aka smelling) your gin. Make sure you don’t go in too gung-ho, as you’ll just find yourself with a face full of alcohol fumes. Instead, give the glass a gentle swirl to release the gin’s aromas and, with the glass 3-4 inches from your face, breathe in gently with your mouth very slightly open.
What can you smell? Sharp citrus? Piney juniper? Sweet spice? Whatever you’re picking up at this point are the ‘top notes’.
Get hands on
However careful you’ve been on this first sniff, it’s still quite likely that you’re still picking up quite a lot of booze. One clever trick to get rid of some this alcoholic hit is to use your hands. Placing your hand carefully over the top of your glass so it’s completely covered, tip the glass upside for a second to wet your palm with gin. Place the glass back on the table and wipe (not rub) your hands together, cup them and take a good sniff, noting down any extra nose notes that you’re picking up.
STEP 3 - TASTE
The first tasting should be done with the neat spirit, (but if you really don’t fancy this that’s fine - feel free to skip to the next step). Take a small sip and let it rest on your tongue, then run it around your mouth and finally, swallow – all the time thinking about what you can taste.
You may find this first tasting bitter because of the alcohol, but can you also detect some of the nose notes you wrote down before, or are the notes very different in your mouth? Do more flavours emerge as you swill it and swallow it? How does your palate feel after you’ve swallowed? Dry? This may indicate root botanicals like orris or angelica. Sour? This could be coming from citrus, such as lemon peel. Does the taste linger or is it short-lived?
For your next tasting, dilute the gin with a little plain water. Just mix in a drop to start with, adding more if required – the idea is to remove some of the sharp hit from the booze and release the different layers of botanicals and spice, without washing the flavours out completely. Note down any new notes you can pick up, remembering there are real ingredients in here to be found and savoured (again, feel free to refer to the bottle’s botanical list to help your taste buds).
Rinse and repeat
You may want to try this whole process several times for each to really understand it properly – but if that feels like enough concentrating already, you can also just move straight on to step three!
STEP 4 – MIX IT UP
As a final step, we’d recommend mixing a gin and tonic - this is a great way to see how the gin changes when it’s in more of an everyday context. Avoid over-diluting the gin – in a tasting, we’d go for one part gin to two parts tonic, but feel free to go for three parts tonic according to your own taste.
You can either use the distiller’s recommended garnish for that particular gin, or select a garnish that you think might work based on your own tasting notes – think about complementary flavours in the same way you would when cooking.
As you sip your G&T, you can go through your notes, compare them with your tasting companions, and make up your mind exactly what you think of your gin. Cheers!