I remember last weekend, the exact moment that I realised I’d chosen the wrong career. It was at the Galle Literary Festival and the lady up on the podium was introducing a speaker who had made a career out of travelling and tasting gin. Now if someone at one of the many career fairs I attended said to me, “Have you considered that you can use your analytical skills to document the intricacies of spirits?” I’d have definitely sat up and paid attention. But alas, they talked about boring things like I don’t even remember what. But back to gin…
In a beautifully fairy light lit courtyard in Galle, Sri Lankan-born Geraldine Coates talked to a small audience of fifty about the history of gin, and how to taste this spirit.
“The history of gin and the history Sri Lanka are very intertwined,” she explained, citing the Dutch and British occupation of Ceylon. Gin is descended from the Dutch spirit jenever, which was the drink that soldiers used to swig before going into battle – hence the term, Dutch courage.
How to taste gin
This wasn’t much of an option at this event as we were given plastic glasses but if you’re doing this as a fun weekend dinner party activity, serve the gin in smallish wineglasses as it helps channel the aromas. f
Serve gin at room temperature
If you’ve been storing your gin in the freezer in order to make extra cold G&Ts, then that’d be two of us. But because gin is an aromatic spirit, it should be served at room temperature to allow the flavours to come through effectively.
Much like wine, gin tasting starts with the nose or ‘nosing’ the gin as the professionals call it. Swirl the gin, then gently smell. It might just smell like alcohol at first, but it gets easier to discern specific aromas with practice (or so I’m told). I personally think that the best way to learn is to have a few different gins in front of you and compare them. What can you smell? What notes come through stronger in others? Generally, you should be able to discern the commonly used botanicals mentioned above – juniper (often described as smelling like pine trees), coriander and angelica.
At last, the fun part! In order to better understand the components of a particular gin, water is added to open the gin up. The water helps to reduce the burning sensation of the alcohol and release the different layers of botanicals and other ingredients. Add roughly an equal part of water to the gin.
I’ve never been one to drink straight alcohol – rum, whiskey or even gin, so this was an interesting exercise. If you’re used to drinking gin and tonics, gin diluted with water tastes a lot like a warm, junipery, flat, slightly burn-y drink. While it was certainly educational, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable.
If there was anything that gin tasting taught me, it is that a gin is but an ingredient in whatever cocktail you make – even something a simple as a gin and tonic. What a gin tasting allows you to do is to pair flavours within a gin with complimentary or contrasting flavours in the cocktail recipe, or garnish.
The gins we tasted were Colombo Gin, Beefeater, Caorunn and Pickering’s 47. You’ll find the tasting notes for these online so I won’t repeat them here. Also, the more we drank the less I remember so quite likely my notes weren’t that useful anyway.