Let’s face it – once you get off the nursery slopes and start feeling the fresh botanical winds of craft gins off-piste, it’s time to learn a few specialist techniques to hone your skills and improve the ride. Here are some top tips for nosing & tasting the “black run gins” in your life.
P.S. This is the full fat guide. You can find the slimline version here.
Simple: don’t nose and taste directly after eating strong flavoured foods (garlic, onions, spices etc) and avoid having chewing gum in your mouth.
Cold, weak coffee and a sniff of coffee beans can help to cleanse the palette, for the really pernickety amongst you.
You’re going to want to put your highball and tumbler glasses to one side and get your hands on a tulip shaped copita glass, or a Glencairn nosing & tasting glass. The shape of these glasses ensures that the aroma of the gin you are tasting is concentrated up into the thinnest curve of the glass, allowing you to really explore the aroma of the gin.
Personally, I like the stemmed copita glass only because the stem allows you to swirl the gin a little more easily than a Glencairn (more traditionally used for whisky tasting). They are elegant to look at too. You can buy them from WineWare.
Temperature affects the aromas and flavours you will experience when nosing and tasting your gin. To get the most out of your gin, you want to serve the gin room temperature (21-23 degrees C). If the gin has been in a cold corner of the kitchen, consider placing it on the radiator for a bit. If the gin has been on a warm back bar or some such, perhaps leave it to cool down to room temperature first.
Bare, naked gin
No ice, no tonic, no garnish. Not to start with anyway. Tonic and garnishes are designed to enhance the flavours in the gin – you want to see, smell and taste this gin in it’s birthday suit to start.
Do however, have a little bit of water near by – best to have it in a mini jug. You’ll need it in a minute.
The first nosing – in the glass
Get that coppita up, stare that gin right in the chops and get your nose right into the tulip of the glass. Take a slow, very gentle sniff. You’re nosing the gin undiluted, so it’s going to pack a powerful alcohol punch (good for clearing the airways) which for most, reveals little more than overwhelming ethol alcohol. That’s OK, your nose and palette will acclimatise.
What are your initial impressions here? Sharp? Fresh? Spicey? Sweet? Make a note.
The second nosing – on your hands
Yup, that’s right. Your hands! We want to try and nose a second time, but to remove some of the punchy alcohol from the experience. Here’s a top tip I learned from Matthew Ferguson for nosing spirits:
- Place your hand on top of the nosing glass, turn the glass upside down and allow the gin to wet your palm.
- Turn the glass back up the right way and remove your hand.
- Wipe your palms (don’t rub) together to remove the strong alcohol and bring them, cupped, to your nose.
- Take a deep whiff.
Here’s a quick video on how:
How lovely is THAT? Now what do you get? Different to the first nose? Do you get more? Take note.
The first tasting – neat
Finally! The GOOD stuff! We are going to take a small sip of the gin, neat. It’s room temperature; we’ve prepared our palette and nose…. We’re cooking with gas now.
- Hold the gin on your tongue for a moment – take note of what you get.
- Move it around your mouth – what changes, what else do you get?
- Swallow – what’s in the finish? Do new flavours arise on the pallet?
IMPORTANT NOTE: Proceed with caution on the first tasting… if you’re used to only tasting gin with the influence of tonic or mixers, you will likely find neat gin an unpleasant experience. The more refined your palette becomes, the more you’ll be able to decipher profiles neat, but if it’s your first time, perhaps skip straight to the second tasting below and add water.
The second tasting – with water
Distiller’s often take a spirit down to 30% ABV with a bit of water. Most gins are bottled at around 40% ABV (unless your drinking a navy strength gin which will be around 50% ABV), but benefit from being taken down to sometimes even 20%. Adding water will takes the sharp edge off the alcohol and saucily unbuttons layers of botanicals and flavours in your gin. Easy does it mind, drop by drop. Try the gin with tiny sips a few times, adding a drop or two more as you go. Notice if that changes anything.
#4: ASSESMENT & GRADUATION
Hopefully you’ve been jotting down a few tasting notes on a piece of paper for your gin as you’ve been going, but now is the time to asses and form your opinion on the gin.
If you’ve enjoyed it and the gin has passed, graduate to a full serve G&T with complimentary garnish or serve as your favourite gin cocktail. I really like this handy guide from the Craft Gin Club – they asked Distillers directly what the best garnish was for their gin.
And there you have it. Now you know how to nose & taste gin like a pro. May the junipers be ever in your favour.