Have you ever wondered how some people become experts in the world of absinthe, and why their opinion is valued so much by fellow experts, buyers, business men and absinthe lovers? Is it simply the amount of absinthe they have tasted throughout their career, or is it a special talent that is either there or not?
Or have you ever asked yourself how you can tell a good absinthe from a bad one, how to tell which herbs are included in which quantity compared to the other ones, and so on?
A simple search on the internet can provide plenty of absinthe tasting guides and information on the techniques for tasting absinthe. Instead of trying to understand the exotic and peculiar language that is often used, this post hopes to give you a beginners insight into the world of tasting absinthe! And if you’re experienced at this, then feel free to contribute with your comments.
Where to Start?
1. Is it important what kind of absinthe I choose?
Yes, and no! Let’s say you’ve ruled out the low quality, mix of essences “Absinths“, and are only focusing on real, traditionally distilled absinthe. Then there is a huge variety to choose from – what should you go for? If you want to get a taste of the most traditional way an absinthe can taste like, then a French green absinthe (“Verte”) is the type of absinthe to go for. Made in France, the country with the most history on absinthe, where this drink was most popular out of all the places on earth, the absinthes distilled there are often referring to Century old recipes, and many of them remind of the spirit of the Belle Epoque.
2. Is there a specific glass suited to the absinthe you are tasting?
Many glasses are designed for certain spirits, and so a standard absinthe glass works just fine. There are small tasting glasses that you can find at certain absinthe tasting events, that look like tiny wine glasses. They are very popular if one wants to taste just a tiny little bit of an absinthe.
3. Is it important what it looks like?
Approach it in the same way you would with food: first, how does it look? Presentation of a meal is just as important as the taste, and this goes for absinthe, too. How does the liquid appear? This can tell you a lot about the spirit including quality of distillation and filtration. The colour before water is added is highly interesting and can give you an idea of the intensity of its flavour (Vertes, at least). With absinthe, the louche effect when water is added, is especially interesting.
So now you’ve prepared yourself a glass of your chosen absinthe, inspected its appearance and colour, the actual tasting can begin!
Combination of Mouth and Nose
If you wish to experience a flavour in full, it requires a combination of both your smelling and tasting senses. A simple way to understand this is the classic trick: take a packet of sweets (skittles/starbursts for example) and close your eyes and choose one, then hold your nose as you taste the sweet. You will not be able to tell what flavour the sweet is until you let go of your nose and inhale, when you will be met with a burst of flavour.
How to Taste:
Therefore, to begin your tasting experience, you should in fact smell the aroma of the absinthe. This is different to what you picture with wine, though, as you should hold the glass a few inches away from your nose to prevent burning the nasal receptors. The aroma itself already bears a lot of information about the quality, and the later taste of an absinthe.
You should already begin to sense certain aromas and flavours. Upon picking up these aromas, inhale slightly stronger, allowing you to bring out individual aromas.
The next step in the tasting adventure is to prepare your palate. Do this simply by taking a small sip, swishing it around your mouth and then swallowing. This cleanses the palate and further awakens the senses.
After this, arch your tongue and take a full sip. Be sure to hit all the flavour sensors along your tongue: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savoury). Then swallow the liquid and gently exhale. At this point you should begin to experience the strongest flavours and you should ask yourself: is it sweet or bitter? Is it a burning sensation or quite soothing?
Upon the second sip you can begin to delve deeper into the character of the absinthe and further question what you are tasting. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to tasting spirits. Your experience is likely to be different to others that you may be tasting with. Do not be worried, this is a good thing! It allows for great conversation and discussion, and you may even have an “oh yeah, that’s what I tasted too!” moment.
We hope this article helped you understand how the experts taste absinthe, and that it provided an insight into the things you should think about when tasting. Hopefully, this also made you want to become an expert yourself, by paying more attention to what you drink, allowing you to determine the quality of your chosen absinthe.