Tasting beyond the checklists
We are often asked:’ What is the right way of tasting Empirical?’ Although we are strong believers that the only right way is the one that makes sense to you, we thought we would share a few pointers. And drop here and there a few scientific nuggets. Because we can’t help ourselves.
The flavor journey
There are many documented ways of how to taste spirits; visual cues, systematic approaches, and flavor wheels that help you connect with given spirit categories.
At Empirical, we are forever inspired by the role flavor plays in our ability to create and transport experiences. We do things our own way. Taking a flavor-first approach means that we don’t pay attention to the conventional categories. Instead, we focus on finding great ingredients and turning them into experiences triggering sense memories.
Predefined rules do not apply, they are meant to be broken. And that also goes with tasting our spirits.
But we digress. First things first, the experience starts with pouring.
Raise your cup
Pouring a liquid can be one of the most satisfying rituals known to humankind. At least for us it is. And just as presentation plays a central part in any meal experience at a restaurant, as much care should be given to the delectation of a liquid.
Many glasses have been made for optimum olfactory and taste experiences, each designed towards specific spirit styles. The clear and slick glasses also ensure that you focus on the flavor without the distraction of any other sensorial stimuli.
In our Tasting Room, we go about it differently. We pour our spirits in unique handmade ceramic cups, with different textures and hues.
‘Why?’ you may ask.
We favor vessels that accentuate flavor profiles and bring all your senses to the party to create a full narrative arc. Color and shapes play an integral part in the way you perceive flavor. For instance, we instinctively associate yellow and green with acidity, pink and red with sweetness or brown and black with bitterness. If you want to get nerdy about it, there is a plethora of information out there and maybe check out Charles Spencer’s work on the subject.
The moral here is, don’t be afraid to be playful with your vessels. Try different ones and figure out which one makes you tick.
What about the temperature?
When the time comes to blend, we always keep the drinking experience on top of our minds with the belief that our spirits will first be enjoyed cold.
So stick your bottle in the fridge ahead of your tasting. If at first, the flavors seem too potent for you, feel free to add one ice cube for dilution.
Most importantly, be generous in your pour. The trick is to keep on coming back to the spirit as it gradually warms up and reveals new layers of flavor and depth. Patience is key, and time is just a construct when you’re having a good time.
Smell with intent
You’re now ready to go to Flavortown. But before you bring the liquid to your lips, take the time to smell with intent.
It is a misconception that smell is inferior to all the other senses we possess. Without smell, there is no flavor. Now’s the time to drop some of those science facts we promised. Brace yourselves.
Smell actually comes in a set of two different senses. The first one (orthonasal) occurs when you naturally breathe in and as a result, smell your direct environment. The other one (retronasal) is more exciting. It starts in your mouth as you eat or drink. The smell particles unlocked while you breathe out are transported to receptors that then send the information to your brain to create flavor.
The coolest part, and the one that makes the most sense to us at Empirical, is that smell is the only sense that is directly linked to the part of the brain (hypothalamus) that controls our moods, and emotions, and where our memories are processed. Basically, it hits us right in the feels.
So smell away, close your eyes and go through your personal Rolodex of memories and aromas. It’s not just about the specific notes you get. It’s also about what it reminds you of.
What do you see when you smell the spirits? Is it the smell of the market of Oaxaca in Ayuuk? The tender memories of a freshly baked tart in The Plum, I Suppose? A campfire with friends in Charlene McGee? Is it none of them? You tell us.
What is your Proustian Madeleine?
Make it your own
Finally, open your mouth and let the delicious liquid flow on your tongue.
Your taste buds are here to detect the 5 main tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. They will tell you really quickly what’s happening. But flavors are created by your brain through smell. Check it out for yourself and block your nose while you are drinking or eating. Now repeat the maneuver without pinching your nose. A new world of flavor opens up.
You might notice that what you taste is slightly different than what you first smelled. We like to trick you! But it’s normal. After all, the senses of smell, taste and touch come together to create a fourth one - flavor.
The first sip will reveal the high notes of the spirit but as you keep on tasting, new nuances will appear. You might not be able to put into words what you experience. And that’s ok. Your brain will dig out into your internal database to bring out familiar experiences and memories. Actually, anthropologists have long claimed that there are fewer words exclusive to the senses of smell and taste than to any other senses. So don’t beat yourself up. The key is to let go and let it transport you to what you already know. That sweet spot where familiar and novel come together.
You are in charge.