As beverage experts, we’re dedicated to crafting a complete sensory experience in our development process. But if we had to pick one sense to boast about, it would undoubtedly be taste. Everyone encounters flavor in various forms, whether it’s that refreshing soda straight from the fridge or an aged spirit you save for those special moments. But how often in life do we intentionally engage in a structured tasting to assess a beverage’s essence? For our clients, it’s a regular occurrence, as they work with our experts for months to perfect their formula and capture its essence. Yet, for others, it might happen during a wine-tasting escapade, a mixologist’s quest for the next cocktail sensation, or simply someone experimenting in their own kitchen.
While we don’t anticipate you becoming a super taster overnight, adhering to best practices during a tasting session is pivotal to either creating or identifying that one-of-a-kind refreshment. It’s a nuanced endeavor, far beyond a mere thumbs-up or thumbs-down judgment of a drink. Rest assured, the art of tasting is our bread and butter, and part of our mission to Change What the World is Drinking is to share our insights with you!
Tasting – Why Do We Do It?
Believe it or not, it’s not enough for a drink to merely taste good; ideally you want it to have its own unique character. This is crucial in our process, as our clients ask us to craft nearly an entire personality for their product. For example, is this drink more for daytime sipping or the life of the nighttime party? Does it cozy up to a specific season, or does it play nice year-round?
Katie Clark, Director of Research and Development, thinks that the sip of a drink is much like a story, saying, “The flavor that starts in your mouth isn’t the same one that leaves it”. She continues, “I think of a cocktail that greets with aromatic citrus and herbals, introducing its mild sweetness, then is followed by the warmth of the base spirit. When a drink successfully delivers on all these fronts and concludes with an intriguing finish, I find myself ordering a second round every time,”.
It’s normal to never have thought so deeply about a cocktail from your local bar or a refreshment to wash down your meal. But, during formal tasting sessions, these attributes act as your roadmap that will ultimately lead to your final analyses and critiques.
Preparing Your Tasting Session
Understanding the significance of mindful tasting is just the beginning. If you’re curating your own tasting expedition, here’s some groundwork to cover and thoughts to sip on:
- Stay Healthy: Avoid tasting while you’re under the weather. When sinuses tend to clog up, it impairs our ability to taste and smell. So, while we always wish you the best of health, you’ll achieve the finest results when you’re feeling your best.
- Odor-Free Environment: It’s not ideal to sample your lemon-flavored sparkling water in a room where someone is busy cooking up burgers. Your nose and taste buds are like two peas in a pod, so strive to maintain a neutral tasting space.
- Morning Alertness: Your senses are at their peak in the morning. We recommend conducting your full-fledged taste tests within the hours of breakfast and lunch.
- Mind Breakfast Choices: During breakfast, it’s a good idea to steer clear of strong flavors like coffee, garlic, and spicy foods. These flavors tend to linger, even after a round of mouthwash, and can greatly alter your palate.
- Don’t go at it alone: Not only is it more fun to have group tasting sessions, but it’ll provide more insight – we recommend a group of no more than 3-4 tasters.
These guidelines might seem nit-picky, but they are tried-and-true techniques employed by beverage experts and professional tasters that will end up yielding incredible results!
Now that you’ve grasped what’s involved in the mindful tasting journey, prepared your tasting rounds, and cleansed your palate, it’s time to get to the part you’ve been parched for! Although the skill of picking up subtle flavor notes in any beverage or dish is a skill that takes years to refine, we’re here to provide you with the building blocks of a seasoned expert’s strategy!
We suggest taking a methodical, but simple, approach, focusing on your senses:
- Seeing: It goes without saying to make sure to use a clear cup with your pours for this evaluation to be effective. Observe the color hues and opacity. Is it clear, cloudy, transparent, or completely opaque?
- Smelling: Dive into the aroma. How potent or subtle is the scent? Does it carry a sweet or savory fragrance? The aroma can often provide valuable insights into the drink’s character.
- Tasting: This is where the canvas opens. Explore a range of flavors, including sweetness, tartness, saltiness, bitterness, and earthiness. Your taste buds are your guides here, so let them lead you through the intricate world of flavors. Depending on your drink, your palate should pick up on intensity of alcohol content or amount of carbonation. To top it off, evaluate that aftertaste, because sometimes it can make or break your drink.
- Feeling: Does it have a watery texture, or is it thick and viscous? Does it leave a lingering coating in your mouth? Is it smooth or oily, or does it present any challenges when swallowing?
Our very own Key Projects Manager, Cory Pierce, suggests, “One should taste their samples in three distinct ways: chilled, over ice, and at room temperature”, and for reference, “Ice can dilute the flavors, rendering the drink more subdued, while a chilled beverage tends to present a somewhat less pronounced sweetness,”. This thoughtful approach allows aspiring drink developers to fine-tune their creations, ensuring they shine under various serving conditions, ultimately delivering a delightful experience to customers.
Also, palate cleansers are essential! Taking a sip of room temperature water in between sips ensures your senses remain neutral as you transition between drinks. The aim is to prevent any confusion between one sample and another, especially if variations are subtle. Speaking of convoluting flavors, refrain from sharing your opinion in group settings until after the session concludes. While a fellow taster may perceive nutmeg when you detect cinnamon, sharing this might influence your real-time perception.
Finally, depending on your end goal for the tasting, it might be necessary for you to record your thoughts. We always advise our clients to jot down as many notes as possible during their sampling, even if observations don’t make perfect sense. Your tastebuds are unique to you, much like a fingerprint, so take your time and trust your instinct. There are no wrong answers! This experience can be relaxing and enjoyable, just as much as it is informational and productive.
Cheers – You’ve Got This!
In sensory practices, there’s no velvet rope that’s exclusive to experts in the beverage or culinary industry. It’s open to all, regardless of your background. As it is Flavorman’s mission to Change What the World Is Drinking, we are committed to nurturing the palates of both newcomers and novices alike. If you’re just starting on this flavorful path, we hope our words have ignited your curiosity and, perhaps, kindled a desire to explore your tasting abilities. For our seasoned pros, our aspiration is to have breathed new life into your creative spirit, offering a fresh lens through which to view future tastings.
Whether you’re taking your first sip or thousandth, remember to trust the process and savor every moment (and flavor), because that’s when the real magic unfolds!
Have an idea for a new beverage? Flavorman can help you bring it to life! Call us at (502)273-5214 or contact our team through this webform.