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Discerning Flavors and Smells

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I don't know what anise, fennel, or wormwood taste or smell like on their own... So how do I know what I am smelling and tasting? I get that anise gives the licorice flavor, but thats about all I have been able to deduce. I've been trying to compare some reviews against the absinthes that I have, but I don't know... There are some pretty vague descriptors in there ("round" for example).

 

So, is it possible to describe those flavors/smells to someone who has no experience with them, maybe by comparing them to something more common? Is there a website that could help?

 

 

 

Clearly, I am new here.

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Just to get you started, find a good review that describes the herbal profile of an absinthe you have. Prepare a nice glass and study the review while you sip. Take your time, sip slowly and consider the review's descriptions. You may have more questions than answers but if you do this a few times, it will slowly begin to come together for you. Don't rush. Relax. Have a glass of absinthe.

 

It's a tough education but it beats the hell out of studying math. :cheers:

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This is a common challenge, but the only real way to learn is experience and continuing to talk with others about it.

 

There are a number of botanicals used in absinthe that most people have no frame of reference for, that's why so many absintheurs wind up growing herb gardens.

 

Wormwood is one of the hardest to describe because it's so new to people. It's not really anything like any other common herb and every common descriptor that comes to mind can be misleading. "Camphorous", "minty", and "herbal" aren't much help, but anyone who's smelled absinthium growing in the summer sun will understand those.

 

It's like trying to explain "blue" via text.

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The next time you're in a nursery keep an eye out for artemisia absinthium. When no one's looking, pick off a tiny piece leaf and taste it. Fennel grows wild in many parts of the USA, and is available in supermarket produce sections. Anise is also available in the form of a packages spice and in herbal teas.

 

Contrary to popular belief, absinthe does NOT taste like licorice. Many people think it does because anise of often used in licorice candies. Good & Plenty is a good example, which tastes like the undissolved sugar at the bottom of an absinthe glass. If the only chocolate a person ever had was Reese's peanut butter cups, they'd have a distorted idea of what chocolate tasted like. Try some 100 percent licorice candy you'll see what I mean.

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The anethole found in licorice is also found in anise and fennel. It's why they all have a similar flavor and taste. Each of them has different amounts of anethole, in addition to other compounds or isomers, which is why they each have their own flavors. But they are similar. So that licorice type of taste and smell you get is mostly the anise and, to some extent, the fennel.

 

The other stuff is just plain hard to pick out if you've never had the chance to stick your nose into a bag of each of those botanicals. You may be able to find some or all of them at an herb shop near your home. How they smell depends a lot on what stage of the process they're in. They smell one way when they're still green and growing, then another when they're dried out. They smell different when they're macerated, and different yet again when they're distilled. They smell different yet again when they're poured from your bottle, and when you add water. They're just tiny differences, but the general nose should be the same. Taste is affected in all the same way, except the difference before distillation and after distillation for some of the botanicals is like night and day. Particularly the wormwood. Bitter as hell before distillation, pleasant afterwards.

 

As Gwydion mentioned, the wormwood will be the hardest one to pick out if you've had no reference. It's bitter, but not a bad bitter. And depending on where it's from and under which conditions it's grown, you may get a minty profile for that bitter, or a camphor profile. But that's generally the medicinal flavor that sort of tastes like alpine herb.

 

The essential oils from star anise (which isn't actually anise) are generally used in licorice candies. So when you try an absinthe which tastes and smells of licorice candy, it's a good bet they've used star anise instead of green anise. There's a huge difference in the taste, smell, quality and price of those, which is why some producers use it. Another reason is because it gives a thicker louche, albeit more oily. Some people have sensitivities to star anise. You can find anise seeds (aniseed) lots of places. Smell them and eat a few.

 

The fennel is just fennel. Your average garden variety or supermarket jar is pretty close to what's used in most absinthes. There are some very high quality fennel grown in Provence, and varying levels of sweetness. But a good way to familiarize yourself with that is to just grab the jar from your spice rack and open it up. Smell it and eat a few.

 

The citrus notes that some people identify in their absinthes is usually, but not always, from lemon balm (Melissa). That's both a taste and aroma thing.

 

When your read about "round" or roundth™, that's usually talking about how well all the botanicals blend together. Well balanced is another way to put that. Nothing really taking over.

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There are some very high quality fennel grown in Provence

 

The best grade of Florence fennel is as good as it gets.

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I find that putting my louched absinthe into a large-bowled wine glass (like a Riedel) and swirling it like I do with wine, then sticking my nose deep into the glass helps pick up different and more pronounced smells. Then when I sip, I do what I do when I drink wine--slosh it around vigorously in my mouth, slurp in air while the liquid is in there, etc. (think Vincent Price in Tales of Terror, the wine tasting scene) to get a good sense of what I'm tasting. It's a learning process, and like Joe mentioned, far more fun than studying math. :)

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Who, me? I wish. I believe it was The Guy In The White Hat (aka Gwydion), although I heartily agree that sugar adds roundth to absinthe.

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Yeah, you beat me to an edit. I just searched and found that! But I'm in the camp that thinks if there is enough natural sweetness, say from the fennel, then the need for additional sweetening for roundth™ is probably unnecessary. I know G likes his sugar though!

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For your palate it is unnecessary, but for me and G, pour some sugar on me/us/in our absinthe. :cheers:

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I don't want to restart an old sugar fight but I would like to say, I've been sipping a lil' verte with enough herbal sweetness to prompt both Jules and I to drink a glass sans sucré.

 

We almost always take sugar with our absinthe.

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Je prends avec sucre!!

 

Good & Plenty is a good example, which tastes like the undissolved sugar at the bottom of an absinthe glass.

I think I know someone who keeps a stash of Good & Plenty on him for when he gets a sudden absinthe craving. Good to see you around! :cheers:

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probably unnecessary
For your palate it is unnecessary
I don't want to restart an old sugar fight but

 

Sugar fight! SUGAR FIIIIGGHT!!!

 

sugars.jpg

 

^ And that's just cane sugar!

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All of my absinthe is sans sucre, but for good reason.

Sugar hates you! But we don't. :heart:

 

It's okay though. The herbal sweetness in your booze may just be enough! :devil:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(fight fight fight!)

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Folks down in Hazzard County hadn't seen a sugar fight in quite some time...

 

The goofy thing about wormwood in absinthe is that it doesn't taste like wormwood tastes some much as it tastes like wormwood smells. I had absolutely zero reference when I started drinking absinthe so I just didn't taste the wormwood at all, not even as a mystery flavour. I suppose my brain just ignored what it couldn't identify. After I became familiar with it there it suddenly was.

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I'll try the L'Italienne with a touch of dark muscovado sugar next time I have some. Or maybe I'll buy something a little less dark, if anyone has any particular suggestions.

 

Beet sugar is probably not an option.

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I suppose my brain just ignored what it couldn't identify.

 

I think this is a quite common phenomenon. There is so much stimuli coming in to our senses every second, that our brains are as useful for what they filter out, as what they process. Case in point is in childhood I would filter out all sexual references in films before I knew what sex was. It was as if those scenes did not exist. As an adult I'll go back and watch a movie I loved as a kid and wonder how my childhood brain made sense of risque jokes and sexual innuendo, only to realize I just tuned it out as it did not compute.

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As Gwydion mentioned, the wormwood will be the hardest one to pick out if you've had no reference. It's bitter, but not a bad bitter. And depending on where it's from and under which conditions it's grown, you may get a minty profile for that bitter, or a camphor profile. But that's generally the medicinal flavor that sort of tastes like alpine herb.

 

The citrus notes that some people identify in their absinthes is usually, but not always, from lemon balm (Melissa). That's both a taste and aroma thing.

 

 

Thanks that pretty much answered the questions i was asking myself about the brevans,

 

good work mate, you should start a forum or something :cheers:

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Beet sugar is probably not an option.

 

I believe B. Alex actually recommends beet sugar with Obsello.

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I struggle so much trying to pick out different flavors and herbs. In fact, I am almost to the point of letting them introduce themselves and just sip happily with little thought about it. The drink is always different and to me that is a very good thing. Well, there are a few things that I may be sensitive to. :)

 

See, no help at all. I'll let my senses run amok and I won't argue with them.....much. :cheers:

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