Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: A do-it-yourself spirits tasting

By JIM BEAUREGARD July 25. 2018 12:57AM

If you are someone who enjoys going to wine or beer tastings — both are fairly frequent events now in New Hampshire — you have a distinct advantage over those who prefer spirits. One has to search a bit to find spirits tastings, particularly any that offer choices beyond a single maker.

As I was pondering this the other day, I decided I would conduct a do-it-yourself tasting for you.

Now, the first step in such an endeavor is to swing by a state liquor store, where, near the cash registers, you can find racks with lots of “nips” — very small bottles of many different kinds of spirits. This gives you the opportunity to taste and try a variety of spirits without having to buy full bottles, which can run up into the hundreds of dollars each depending on what you choose.

So, I spent a few minutes picking and choosing to come up with the samples for today’s do-it-yourself tasting. So let’s get started. (And, since the person doing the pouring usually tells you a little bit about what’s going into your glass, I’ll do that too.)

Patrón Tequila, Silver: 40% alcohol by volume/80 proof, “100% puro de agave.” 50 mL bottle, $5.99. If you drink tequila, then you want the agave plant. It’s a relative of amaryllis and despite its prickly appearance, is not a cactus. It is grown all over Jalisco, a state that lies on the Pacific Ocean in central Mexico. The town of Tequila is located between Guadalajara, Jalisco’s capital, and Puerto Vallarta on the coast.

The name Tequila comes from pre-Columbian Mexico, where tequitl meant “the working place” (they drank this stuff at work?) and ancient legend held that Mayahuel, the goddess of fertility, transformed herself into the agave plant, which was used to produce a fermented drink.

The agave plant has to grow for about six years before it is ready to be harvested (about twice as long as many vines), and makers often wait a few years longer. Generally speaking, the older the agave, the better the tequila. It is the core of the agave plant that is cooked after the spines and leaves have been removed. It’s cooked for a couple of days, which helps to change complex starch into simpler sugar making it ready for fermentation, which is induced by adding (you guessed it) yeast. After fermentation, what was once agave goes through two distillations that can bring the alcohol level up to 55% ABV (110 proof).

For the Patrón, the spirit is water clear, colorless, with a sharp clean nose where, of course, the alcohol first stands out. (The trick to a tasting of spirits is to work your way around the alcohol to what’s behind it, naming the specific flavors characteristic of the particular spirit.) There is a distinct peppery aroma, pungent as it should be. This is just a bit off-dry with warming alcohol and medium body. The flavor characteristics include spice, the pepper again, which follows it all the way down your throat, some citrus notes and agave.

The finish is a very long one and it stays with you quite a while after.

Beefeater London Dry Gin: 47% alcohol by volume. Distilled and bottled in the United Kingdom, made with 100% grain spirit. 50 mL, $1.99. In the distant past, gin may have originally been made from juniper berries somewhere in Italy. (Who knew it was an Italian drink?)

Juniper remains the key flavor in gin, and under European Union law, to be called gin it has to begin with a spirit (ethanol) that is at minimum 96% ABV before flavorings are added. Juniper berries are gathered from Italy or the region of the former Yugoslavia just across the Adriatic, and that particular berry tends to impart flavors with notes of pine, heather or lavender. So, gin is a flavored spirit.

For Beefeater, the berries are macerated in the neutral spirit for about 24 hours before it is distilled, which the makers claim fixes the aromas of the gin more carefully.

Now, for the gin itself, it is also water-white. Juniper and some vegetal notes on the nose. On the palate it is dry, with warming alcohol that leans a little toward harsh, medium body and medium texture. The flavor intensity is medium, with a pretty intense citrus character as is typically the case for Beefeater, meaning lime, lemon and a hint of tangerine. It has a clean, medium-length finish with violets in the background as well. Beefeater is traditionally the most citric of the gins out there.

Bombay Sapphire Dry Gin: London, 47% ABV (94 proof). 50 mL, $1.99. When I mentioned the neutral spirit above, this includes both the fact that what you start with doesn’t have any flavor, but also that the pH is neutral. For this particular gin, the distillers use what is referred to as a Carterhead still, suspending the botanicals in a basket that is on the neck of the still.

You can recognize it on the shelf by its blue-tinted bottle, but the spirit itself is water-white with the nose of juniper, some herbal notes and a bit of violet. Compared to the tequila above, this is a lighter spirit, but with a bit heavier body. It is dry, with warming alcohol, medium body and a thicker texture. The flavor intensity is medium and includes the classic juniper, citrus notes comprising tangerine and a bit of lemon and lime. Refreshing and pleasing, waiting to be mixed into summer drinks.

Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com


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