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How to drink Vodka, Brandy and Whisk(e)y
First published on Distillique's website 2015 GM Bosman
Preparation: To begin with, vodka should be frozen. Specifically, it should be stored in the freezer overnight, or at least for a few hours. This will bring the liquor to its proper consistency and flavor.
It is how Russians drink vodka, and, well, they started this whole thing.
Drinking. Vodka has become so popular because many consider it the "perfectly neutral" base for mixed drinks. Frankly, to me, that's a bit like buying a car to talk to a salesman. Sure, we like our vodka martinis and vodka tonics. But to really enjoy vodka, you need to learn to appreciate it straight up. No water. No vermouth. No tonic.... and definitely not "on the rocks”.
Alcohol is nature's anti-freeze. Pour vodka over rocks and the rocks melt. You want to drink vodka or water? Forget ice. It is for amateurs ... Nothing but Vodka.
Get yourself a nice 50ml clear glass. Pop it in the freezer for an hour. Then pour in a healthy shot of your frozen vodka. Let the vodka warm up just very slightly, holding the glass in your hand. This will take just a bit of the freeze off it.
If vodka is too cold, it will freeze your taste buds and you will not get an adequate tasting. If it is too warm, the flavor mix becomes too complex and the dominant flavor less discernible. Tasting.
There are four senses involved in a tasting of vodka: smell, sight, tactile and taste.
Smell: First pass the glass slowly underneath your nose (with eyes closed, focusing on the smell) to nose the more subtle aromas (some esters). Then Nose the vodka more directly in the glass as you briefly swirl it about to get the less subtle, stronger aromas of the more volatile alcohols. A good vodka will have a a slight creamy, sweet or grainy odor. A bad vodka will smell medicinal or "aggressive," with a strong odor of ethyl spirits. Between nosing different vodkas, it might be beneficial to cleanse you nose (as in smelling sense) by nosing freshly ground coffee. Although this is not a Russian habit, it will cleanse your nose and allow you to smell the more subtle odors.
Sight. Hold the vodka glass up to the light and look at the liquid's clarity, texture and luminescence. A fine vodka will have a thick and creamy texture when frozen. It may also have a bluish or yellowish tint. One expert Russian taster noted that vodka is valued "not just for clarity, but for a crystalline luster, an internal energy."
Tactile. It should feel smooth on the tongue, but not slippery (as when adding glycerin) or rough. It should feel rather creamy, not watery.
Taste. A good vodka should not be bitter or caustic, it should not burn your palate. It should hint towards some taste, but not enough to allow you to identify the taste. (other than being good vodka!)
Step 1: Taste by sipping, letting the vodka rest on your palate while exhaling through your nose (to get a still better sense of the vodka's aroma). Then swallow and take note of the aftertaste.
Step 2: Cleanse your palate (lukewarm water is the best or a small bit of sorbet), then try downing the rest of the shot you poured (or pour another shot) "straight down," without letting it linger on your palate this time. Compare these two experiences and the aftertaste.
Step 3: Taste the vodka with some food, especially breads, potato dishes, salty dishes or fish. This will help round out your sensations and impressions of the vodka. Finally, no vodka can be judged in a vacuum (it's a scientific thing).
To really judge a vodka, you need to taste it alongside a second one. Or a third, or a fourth .... but not more than ten. (apparently it’s also a scientific thing)
Appearance. Packaging and presentation are also important criteria. Does the bottle have a cork or a twist-off cap? How well does the cap seal the bottle? Does the packaging match up with the impression the company is trying to convey of the brand? Does it give a "premium" feel? Is it stylish and attractive? Is it glass (don't even get us started on plastic bottles!)?
Don't think this is all that important? Think again. The average consumer going into a liquor store or staring across a bar at a vodka bottle can only judge a vodka by its bottle! Packaging can contribute to or subtract from the overall experience mightily.
Brandy is a taste adventure - a mouth-filling melange of vanilla, fruits and nuts that lingers deliciously on the tongue.
Step 1: Color
- Tilt the glass at a 45 angle away from you and observe the color of the brandy preferably against a white background.
- The color of the brandy can be indicative of the age and blend or style of the brandy
- The darker the brandy, the longer it has been matured in oak casks.
- The darker colored brandies can indicate that they are usually fuller and richer in taste.
Step 2: Do not swirl
- Unlike wine, which you are meant to swirl in the glass to release its aromas, brandy should be kept stable in the glass as the liquid is very volatile and precious volatile flavors can be lost.
- The alcohol strength of Brandy, neat, is more or less three times that typically found in wine. Keeping the glass still allows your nose time to gradually get used to the alcohol content.
Step 3: Nose
- To appreciate the brandy aromas, you should first inhale at the top of the glass to allow your nose to acclimatize to the alcohol.
- One should not immediately place the nose at the top of the rim of the glass and inhale deeply but rather move the nose above the glass opening and gently take in the subtle, top notes of the brandy.
- As you smell deeper into the glass, you will experience the richer, more complex flavors.
Step 4: Taste
- Hold the bulb of the glass in the palm of your hand to slightly warm the brandy contents. This helps to bring out the full flavor of the brandy.
- Slowly draw a small amount into the mouth, ease the brandy over the palate and swallow.
Step 5: Overall impression
- The discoveries on the color, nose and taste of the brandy will now allow you to gain an overall impression of the brandy you are tasting.
- The lighter flavored, less bodied brandies are generally great for mixing.
- The fuller-bodied, aged pot-still or vintage brandies are best savored neat, over ice or with a dash of water.
To begin, get some single malt whisky, now:
Step 1: Get a proper glass.
The tulip glass is the preferred style because it focuses the aromas and splashes the spirit onto the tongue in a wide fashion.
Some whisky drinkers prefer tumblers or snifters.
Step 2: Pour yourself a dram.
Depending on your experience and how much you want to drink, this amount can be anywhere from half an ounce to two ounces.
Step 3: Tilt and turn the glass.
Let the whisky coat the glass. This increases the surface area, permitting greater evaporation and thus enhancing the aroma. Observe the consistency as it sticks to the sides of your glass.
Step 4: Nose the whisky.
Place your nose a few inches away from the glass. What do you smell? Now get a little closer. How is that? Now get as close as you can without letting the alcohol burn interfere.
What other aromas are there? Keeping your mouth slightly open as you nose the whiskey will help you to better discern and 'taste' the different aromas.
Step 5: Add water. (Optional)
As much as half-and-half or as little as a few drops. Adding water depends on the strength and style of the whisky and the taster's preference.
Regular bottles contain 40% to 46% alcohol by volume (ABV) and are diluted using the distillery's water source.
Some whisky purists (Jim Murray, for example) feel that as it has already been diluted, further dilution is unnecessary.
"Cask strength" whiskies are stronger (generally 46% to 60%) and require more water.
Avoid tap water, because the chlorine and/or dissolved minerals will interfere with the taste.
Step 6: Gently agitate the whisky.
Nose the whisky again. Change the angle and distance of the glass to pick up all of the subtle aromas.
Continue this for a few minutes while the water marries with the whisky and releases additional aromas you may not have noticed at first.
If you have added water, have patience. It takes a good amount of time before the whisky and water are completely married.
Step 7: Take a sip.
Take just enough to coat your mouth and begin to slowly swirl it around your tongue.
Step 8: Feel the consistency of the whisky.
Some feel thicker, oilier, or grittier than others.
This is referred to as the "mouth-feel." Try and coat your tongue so that the whisky touches all of your taste buds.
Step 9: Taste the whisky.
Try to hold the whisky in your mouth as long as it takes to notice all of the different flavors.
Step 10: Swallow.
Try not to open your mouth or close your throat. Let in a tiny amount of air through your mouth and breathe through your nose slowly as the fumes rise up into your sinuses.
You may notice different flavors. This is called the "finish." Once the flavors subside, breathe normally.
Repeat steps 7 through 10. Unless one is tasting whiskies in quick succession, consuming a dram can often take half an hour or more. Notice how the flavors and aromas change throughout your session.