How to Make the Most of a Spirits Tasting

Words by Libby Dalziel

As we prepare for Spirits of the Season, our new spirits tasting and brewfest, we want to share with you the inside scoop on how to navigate such a tasting event. We caught up with Max Overstrom-Coleman from Mad River Distillers to pick his brain on things we should keep in mind while sipping on these local liquids.

Taste Vermont-made spirits and brews at Spirits of the Season, December 17, 2016.

Max reinforced that tasting is a conversation, not a lecture.  There is no right or wrong answer, it’s about you figuring out what you like and enjoy. Experienced tasters develop taste buds and vocabulary associated with tasting; their strength is seen in being able to articulate what they taste. Thus, the more tasting you do, the sooner you’ll find yourself describing your next drink as an aggressively warm combination of zesty and herbaceous notes with a spicy finish.

Not to get carried away too quickly now, lets start from the beginning. The first question that you’ll probably have as you begin to sip is; “do I like it?” And well… that’s really only something you can answer. As you begin to indulge not only in the spirits you’re sampling, but also in conversation about them, you’ll find yourself wanting to articulate why. To help you shed light on some of these questions, Max aided in identifying pointers and ways you can guide your tasting experience and figure out what you like most.

  1. Be Honest. Now we aren’t talking rude and obnoxiously honest, but it’s alright to say that you do not like something or prefer a different flavor or distiller. Not only will your honesty help the creators learn about their product, but it will also help them to guide you towards something that aligns with your preferences.
  2. Start Light. Light in color, light in sugar. Light colored spirits such as vodka and gin tend to have lower sugar contents. Sugar can be quite difficult to exhume from your palate between drinks, so by starting light you might find it easier to reset your taste buds between drinks. Don’t be afraid to take control of your tasting and move around. Starting with vodka or gin, progressing to whiskey, rye, scotch, and bourbon and ending with your sweeter cordials is usually a nice progression.
  3. Stay Class Conscious. You will have an easier time identifying certain aspects of a spirit you like or dislike when you taste it comparatively against something in the same class. For example, when tasting one gin against another, you will likely distinguish appropriate differences on flavors and aromas within that spirit class. Appearance, nose and taste are all descriptive factors and become much more valuable when used in an appropriate relationship.
  4. Have Fun. At the end of the day, tastings are all about having fun while learning about your preferences. Tastings provide an opportunity to expand your palate and get out of your comfort zone. You might think you know what you like and dislike, but by trying new things, you might end up surprising yourself. Or you might confirm that you do really know yourself, and you head home with another bottle of your favorite spirit. Either way, tastings are a great way to come together with family and friends, talk about drinks, and enjoy the holidays.

In addition to a multitude of Vermont-made spirits, the region’s top breweries will also be serving up their famous seasonal beverages. We hope to see you at Grizzly’s on December 17! For tickets and more information, visit here.