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Mephistopheles D. Grimm

Building your palate?

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I've been spending a lot of time lurking around the reviews, and the blind tasting section of the forum and it occurred to me that perhaps some other aspiring absintheurs like myself might one day want to try building reviews and joining the blind tastings. Then a question poked out from the depths of my soggy braincasing.

 

There are a variety of flavors, both subtle and apparent, present in a good absinthe, but not everyone who might be interested in reviewing might know how to detect or identify them from simple lack of experience, a lot of us now'a'days only wind up sensing a handful of flavors early on. Most of them extremely sugary or overtly savory, simplistic flavors. Something one hopes to NOT find in absinthe.

 

I'm curious as to how others have built their discerning tastes, and how the newcomers like myself might go about it. Just sampling would only be of limited use, without the proper knowledge of how to distinguish the flavors and key notes. At least I would assume so. I know my tea well, black tea especially. So I can break down the flavors and scents pretty well, but give me oolong, or white tea, and I'm a little overwhelmed with the more delicate flavors and how to describe them. Because I have less firsthand experience as well as knowledge about them.

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It's just like tea: there's no substitute for experience. Until your palate is more educated, you can just use descriptors that the flavors/aromas remind you of. Baby powder? Juicy Fruit gum? Good & Plenty's? Wet, hot, fresh-mowed grass in August?

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There's not too many shortcuts for experience. You'll just have to try lots of different brands, in the name of research and education, of course. ;)

 

http://www.absinthe.de/ - This site had two different tasting kits for 6 of the more common herbs to absinthe, though I'm not sure if they're still for sale there.

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I would echo Gwydion. Although there's tremendous value in knowing what contributes what flavour you're tasting, what I actually find more useful is just describing the flavour or aroma itself. It will be more relevant to people who don't know what hyssop, for example, contributes, and people who are familiar with such things will probably know where those flavours come from anyway.

 

If you look at single malt Scotch reviews, that's what is done by default (actually all whisky reviews but I'm keeping my scope narrow here). It makes sense because everyone knows every ingredient that is used while the kind of cask it was matured in is right there on the label. There are no surprises about what's in it, so the focus can be just on what it tastes like. Fruits, butterscotch, rubber, marzipan, caramel, smoke, whatever.

 

With absinthe we don't always know what's even in it. So I think we sometimes become preoccupied with trying to decode it instead of just saying "it tastes like ______."

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A couple of the common coloring herbs, hyssop and melissa (lemon balm), are easily grown from seed. Check out your local garden shop or online seed shops. I just grow them in the summer in herb pots on my back deck. Harvest, dry, and then soak them in some Kübler. Then, side-by-side comparison tastings of Kübler and "Kübler verte" :cheers:

 

Obviously this isn't going to work so well for the herbs/seeds that go through distillation (the anise/fennel/wormwood), but for the coloring herbs, it's a fun little science project. I was amazed how my Kübler + hyssop had much more (and much more pleasant) aroma, as well as a nice green/gold color.

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Obviously this isn't going to work so well for the herbs/seeds that go through distillation (the anise/fennel/wormwood), but for the coloring herbs, it's a fun little science project.

I actually found great value in experiencing the herbs that get distilled. They're different in the subtleties but they still have the same overall character. Green anise in my hand is recognizable as green anise in absinthe and not as star anise. What I will say, though, is that wormwood in absinthe tastes the way wormwood smells, not like how it tastes.

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Wet, hot, fresh-mowed grass in August?
Blech! Well, unless you run over one of my wormwood plants. Most of my grass forest smells like knapweed and thistle.

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Here's what helped me identify the distilled herbs: Try a side-by-side of some Arak, some Kübler, and some La Clandestine, or La Maison Fontaine.

 

Arak is a grape base spirit distilled with only green anise. Smell it, roll it around on the senses, get the feel of the grape spirit. Get familiar with the green anise.

 

Kübler is grain neutral base spirit with star anise, fennel, and a bit of wormwood. After having tasted the Arak, you'll be able to identify the aniseed and isolate the fennel and wormwood.

 

The higher quality blanches I mentioned will have a stronger wormwood profile than the Kübler. Now I was able to identify the wormwood spot on.

 

When it comes to the other herbs usually used in coloration, IMO, there is no alternative for experience.

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My experience with Kübler is that once it sits for a month or two after opening the wormwood comes to the front quite a bit.

 

The last bottle I had had no detectable wormwood when I opened it, but by the third month it was a downright wormwood bomb.

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I was wondering about it as well. As for advise, I don't have much. I've been drawn to some of the more generous brands that list some of theor ingredients, not as a cheat sheet, but in case there is sonethibg weird in there.

 

I don't know exactly what rose geranium tastes like, but I have a feeling it is what seems so overpowering to me in the Germain-Robin blanche.

 

Tasting and chewing some herbs has helped me, my folks have some lemon balm growing in their back yard, and I've had a few absinthes that were particularly heavy with it. I don't know for certain, but I felt like there was some cardamon in Montemarte after bitting into some in some rice in an Indian restaurant. It's about all I can taste in H.B.P now.

 

Knowing your mints is helpful too, I don't especially like the "peppermint" qualities in Vieux Pontarlier, but I really do like the spearmint in Vieux Carre.

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This discussion got me thinking about my other two drink passions, rum and armagnac. It always amazes my the range of flavors and aromas that one senses in those spirits, considering the fact that neither one has an ingredients list: rum is basically sugar cane product, armagnac is grape. Nothing really added to either one, yet the finished product can have all sorts of interesting notes.

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My experience with Kübler is that once it sits for a month or two after opening the wormwood comes to the front quite a bit. The last bottle I had had no detectable wormwood when I opened it, but by the third month it was a downright wormwood bomb.

 

My experience is just the opposite. I have a bottle of Kübler that despite being open for a couple of years has almost no detectable wormwood flavor/aroma.

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There's not too many shortcuts for experience. You'll just have to try lots of different brands, in the name of research and education, of course. ;)

 

http://www.absinthe.de/ - This site had two different tasting kits for 6 of the more common herbs to absinthe, though I'm not sure if they're still for sale there.

They used to have "degustation-set-1"/"degustation-set-2", but I think they have been unavailable for quite some time.

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This discussion got me thinking about my other two drink passions, rum and armagnac. It always amazes my the range of flavors and aromas that one senses in those spirits, considering the fact that neither one has an ingredients list: rum is basically sugar cane product, armagnac is grape. Nothing really added to either one, yet the finished product can have all sorts of interesting notes.

In their own bizarre-chemistry way they do have all sorts of other things in them, which is what I find so fascinating about oak-aged booze.

 

When you age a spirit in unpainted casks, the combination of the liquor, oxygen, and charred oak result in chemical reactions that create new substances that were not present in the spirit to begin with. Often these are exactly the chemicals that give commonly known fruits and whatnot their flavours. So you might taste apricot in a rum or whisky, because it actually has the chemical that gives an apricot the dominant aspect of its flavour. Sometimes it's chemicals used in the artificial rendering of a fruit (like how artificial banana candies don't taste like real bananas). And sometimes it's a chemical that just resembles something you know.

 

In addition, some of these flavours can be created during the fermenting process before distillation, as the yeast will kick out other substances besides carbon dioxide and alcohol. And then some flavour might be imparted by the burning of sulfur candles in the casks to sterilize them before use. I've always found Macallan single malts to be very rubbery because of this.

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Many years ago, My Dad set up Budweiser plants with all their pipes and valves and gaskets. Before hiring my Dad's company, the execs at Anheuser Busch cut up the gaskets into little pieces, soaked them in beer for several days, showed up in their suits, chewed on the rubber pieces, and tasted the beer the chunks were sitting in. No rubber flavors were imparted, and Dad got the account. I always thought it funny how these guys worried about this, then used rice in the beer! Chewing on rubber...Talk about developing one's palate! It does of course, make sense, it's just a funny story.

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When you age a spirit in unpainted casks, the combination of the liquor, oxygen, and charred oak result in chemical reactions that create new substances that were not present in the spirit to begin with. Often these are exactly the chemicals that give commonly known fruits and whatnot their flavours. So you might taste apricot in a rum or whisky, because it actually has the chemical that gives an apricot the dominant aspect of its flavour. Sometimes it's chemicals used in the artificial rendering of a fruit (like how artificial banana candies don't taste like real bananas). And sometimes it's a chemical that just resembles something you

 

Esters, baby. They'll make yer beer taste all sorts of funny. My beers have had a Necco Wafers undertone and sometimes some fruityish things going on. Sometimes Band-Aid flavors come out but I've never been so lucky. Diacetyl is the only one I know by name, it tastes like butter.

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myself and a friend (who still resides fairly close to you, Mr. Legate!) used to drink Rolling Rock on occasion because as he put it, "you can chop wood while drinking it and not worry about losing any toes". We called it Rolling Rice, which soon was shortened to Rice.

 

"whaddya say, a sixer of rice?"

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