August 26, 2020 5 min read
Formally tasting a vodka or gin is a great way to get a really focused experience of its taste, mouth feel and bouquet. This does not necessarily involve wearing a bow tie or ball gown – rather, it’s all about serving and tasting the spirit in the right way.
Formal tasting is a popular method among vodka taste testers and reviewers. It’s also part of the job for panellists at competitions such as the World Vodka Awards, Great Taste Awards and the IWSC, all of whom have kindly granted awards to Wild Knight spirits.
The tasting process we’re about to take you through works equally well for either vodka or gin. For brevity’s sake, we’re going to start referring to both spirits as vodka from here on, because all gin starts out life as vodka.
How cold do you like your vodka? It’s a question that divides spirit-lovers around the world.
You’ll often hear it said that the best way to prepare vodka is to put it in the freezer for several hours before drinking.
There’s science to support this argument. The more a spirit is cooled, the more viscous it becomes, and so a very cold vodka should have relatively high viscosity. This property can give the spirit a smoother, richer mouth feel.
Some people say serving vodka very cold helps mask the harshness of the drink. In our view, this advice doesn’t really apply to the sorts of premium vodka that you’d go out of your way to taste. Good vodka should be smooth and drinkable, however you serve it.
At the other end of the vodka prep spectrum, some say vodka is best served neat and at room temperature.This can be a good approach for fully highlighting the flavours of the spirit.
Our preferred way of preparing Wild Knight Premium English Vodka is to chill it slightly, then serve it neat or over a single ice cube. This provides an ideal balance of flavour, viscosity and refreshment.
With all that said, how cold to serve vodka really is a matter of personal taste. Prepare yours as you like it.
Using an appropriate glass is important in vodka tasting. Fortunately, there are plenty of vessels that fit the bill.To properly taste a premium vodka, you’ll need to smell its bouquet, too. To ensure you can do this, you’ll want a glass that gives you enough space to get your nose over the spirit. Good options include martini glasses, lowball glasses and just about anything else with a wide aperture. For a refreshing drink, you may choose to chill your glass before pouring.
It’s always a good idea to cleanse your palate before tasting a vodka or gin. Flavours from other food and drink you’ve consumed through the day can linger in the mouth and change how a spirit tastes. They need to be neutralised in order to ensure a “true” taste of the spirit.
A wide variety of foodstuffs have palate cleansing properties. Choose one or more of the following to nibble before you drink:
If none of these options appeal, you could make do with swilling some water in your mouth instead. This probably won’t cleanse your palate fully, but it will help.
Now for the fun part!
Tasting vodka is all about taking your time, paying attention to your senses and savouring the spirit.
First, swirl the vodka in the glass and take a good smell of it from close range. Try to pick up on the aroma notes, from alcohol to grains and botanicals.
Take a sip, then hold the vodka in your mouth a while and move it around. Notice how the flavour changes over time, and see if you can single out the different tastes within the drink. If you’ve chosen a really good vodka with some complexity to it, you may be able to notice a number of distinct flavours.
If you like, use a pen and paper to make notes as you smell and taste. Keeping tasting notes can be a great way to remember and compare the different spirits you’ve tasted.
And that’s about all there is to it! Get the spirit to the desired temperature, pour it into a suitable glass, neutralise your palate, then savour the taste and smell of a fine drink. You should finish with a greater appreciation of your chosen tipple.
If you’re planning on tasting a gin, you may want to add an extra step into the tasting process: garnishing.
Gins are very often served with a garnish. This is sometimes done to balance the flavour of a gin, while in other cases it’s simply intended to make the drink look appealing. In the context of a tasting, you’d generally be aiming for a third outcome: to bring out the botanicals in the gin by using a garnish that complements their flavours.
Choosing the right garnish to complement a gin is simple: just find out which botanicals are present in the spirit, then select a garnish with a similar flavour.
All gin contains juniper, so garnishing with juniper berries is always a valid choice. To a gin with citric botanicals, you might add lime or grapefruit. And if you’re drinking a spiced gin, you could add a pinch of peppercorns.
Looking briefly to the Wild Knight range of spirits, we recommend garnishing our Boadicea Gin ‘Classic’ with herbs or citrus fruit, as the gin is made with botanicals from both categories. Meanwhile, our Boadicea Gin ‘Rosa’ is infused with cherries, so garnishing it with cherries or another sweet fruit could be an effective choice.
Every distillery will give you slightly different advice on tasting, based on the unique characteristics of its spirits.
Something we would say about all these drinks, is that you should aim to try them neat at least once. This will give a pure experience of the flavours we’ve gone to great lengths to create. It’s best not to add lots of mixer, at least not all the time, as doing so can detract from the flavours that make a spirit special.
We do have some particular serving suggestions for certain Wild Knight products. Nelson’s Gold is best drunk chilled over ice, as this cuts through some of the sweetness in the blend to reveal its darker undertones. Our Espresso Martini is also best served slightly chilled – but somewhat less so than the Nelson’s Gold.
When you’re tasting vodka or gin, the tasting and serving methods used are sure to affect your experience of the drink. But perhaps of even greater importance, is the situation you enjoy the drink in.
The best measure of a spirit isn’t how it tastes in a neutral setting: it’s how you enjoy it in the moments that matter, whether that’s a celebration with friends, or in your armchair at home. By all means try a formal vodka tasting using the steps we’ve described above, but for the most part, enjoy your vodka however you like.
Another great way to taste vodka is in pairings with food. We particularly enjoy a glass of Wild Knight vodka with smoked meats or cheeses. Visit the Serves section of our website for inspiration.
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