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#1 Ambear

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 10:39 AM

I recently read an article by a couple of guys who are doing a project involving eating a burger from a known burger joint in San Francisco, and gleaning a particular lesson about creativity that the burger "taught them". The particular burger that got me thinking was this one. The important part is this:

 

The first bite of Doc’s Classic Burger is unforgettable. Through the toasted bun, warm melted cheese and cold ripe tomato arises a distinctive mushroomy flavor. That is, the flavor is distinctly fungal. It tastes at first like the rich, earthy flavor of a woodland mushroom, an artifact—I presume—of a well-seasoned grill. I’m not certain that I like the flavor, but I’m attracted to the idea that this patty contains the secret history of its predecessors in its crispy edges. Nathan is similarly confronted and asks, “Does this taste…musty to you?” 
 
As soon as he says this, I realize that it is indeed an unsettling mustiness swirling through my nose and clinging unpleasantly to my tongue. It’s not the flavor of woodland mushrooms, nor truffles, nor anything that belongs in a kitchen. It is exactly the flavor of your favorite childhood book, pulled from a box in the basement to reveal a cover blooming with moldy spores. Each bite offers no relief, just as each turn of the page confirms that your childhood storybook is beyond redemption. 
 
I may have been convinced that it was a flavor too subtle or refined or new for my palate to identify. I could have been told (and I may have believed) that it was an acquired taste that I would come to appreciate. Once labeled “musty” however, those options were closed to me. The label—not I—was in control of the experience. 

 

I know that when I do tastings I try to talk as little as possible to try not to influence anyone else who may or may not be tasting with me (ok...I mean Evan) though sometimes a "Hmm", "Mmm", or "BLEH" get uttered. I think for Heritage I might have said "OH NO", while Evan tasted his and facepalmed. Other than that, we don't typically talk to each other while reviewing, and I think this is generally a good thing.

 

Recently we tasted Taboo Gold, and something about it made Evan (after we were done reviewing) ask if I had tasted a lot of cinnamon. I'm extremely sensitive to cinnamon in drinks, and I could answer with certainty, no...I don't think there's any cinnamon flavors in there. That said, a lot of the other reviews mention cinnamon as well. We finally pinpointed the culprit as the kirsch base, which also explained the familiar feeling I got but couldn't identify...the jolt I'm accustomed to when drinking fruit brandy. Where I'm torn is this...Evan tasting cinnamon was pretty accurate from a "this is what this flavor most resembles" aspect. Being able to identifying kirsch after some research made the absinthe make more sense and made a more factual review.

 

I guess it has me wondering...is reviewing done better in a vacuum: with purity of experience and a lack of outside factors, or with some outside knowledge and opinion...can a more educated review be a better one? I pursue both objectivity as well as knowledge, but they seem to be disconnected in this situation. I know FPB, for example, does a number of tastings...do you avoid outside absinthe contact and talk about the product during that time? I'm curious.

 

Anyway, the creative lesson behind the burger thing was that as a creator, it's important to guide the user's (or in absinthe's case, the drinker's) experience because "If you don’t someone else will and you’ll be at the mercy of their label, not yours." But we don't really get that luxury from the creators of the drink...we're largely at the mercy of whatever label is created by the tasters, which then have the potential to influence both current and future drinkers.

 

I'm lookin' at you, "juicy funk".


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#2 Brian Robinson

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 11:19 AM

For most brands, it's hard to stay in a vacuum of any kind when sampling it, but it's become relatively easy to stay as unbiased as humanly possible as I've done more and more reviews.  The tasting score sheet, if followed properly, allows you to review the brand based on specific qualities, while at the same time, distancing the score from your own personal preference.

 

For example, I can find a brand balanced, well executed, and perfectly acceptable, while at the same time not really enjoying it.  I'd score it based on the former criteria and not the latter opinion.  Granted, that could happen very easily in the 1-4 scale.  Personal preference would insert itself in the movement from 4 to 4.5 or 5.  But even then, it's pretty much only in the flavor and finish department.


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#3 Ambear

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 01:46 PM

As far as flavor goes though...do you feel it's better to say there's a flavor you can't place but enjoy/dislike? Try to come up with a good comparison? Run the risk of saying things like "grandma's purse" which becomes used over and over again (even though it's not really a description that means a damn thing)?

 

I recently said one absinthe has a pool-like flavor...but it's only because I can't place it. Oceanic, briny...these aren't quite right. Neither would be "chemical" or "chlorine". It's not necessarily a bad flavor, but it's puzzling. But now that I've given my best comparison, are future people tasting it who have seen the review going to instantly go "swimming pool" and not be able to enjoy the flavor anymore?


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#4 Brian Robinson

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 04:45 PM

To me, whatever you can say to best describe the flavor you're thinking of is as much as I could ask.  In fact, reviews that leave out things like 'melissa' or 'hyssop' or other herbs that the lay people wouldn't understand are more useful to the majority of people who would be reading the reviews.  Practically no one outside of the major online forums (and probably a good amount of those IN for forums) have no idea what flavors the specific herbs possess.  The more we use descriptors that most people can envision, the better.


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#5 Gwydion Stone

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 05:00 PM

For example, I can find a brand balanced, well executed, and perfectly acceptable, while at the same time not really enjoying it.

 

And the reverse can be true, if one is honest with oneself.  If I were to review François Guy today, the review would not be flattering; insipid, unbalanced, lacking in complexity. But I've always been fond of it for some inexplicable reason.

 

As far as flavor goes though...do you feel it's better to say there's a flavor you can't place but enjoy/dislike? Try to come up with a good comparison? Run the risk of saying things like "grandma's purse" which becomes used over and over again (even though it's not really a description that means a damn thing)?

 

This actually touches on a habit of absinthe reviewers/drinkers I'm bothered by (and yet have participated in quite a bit): the need to try and identify actual ingredients. Aside from familiarity with the flavors and aromas of the wormwoods, the anises, and fennel and their relative quality, this is pretty much an irrelevant guessing game that is unique to absinthe tasters as far as I can tell.  

 

As a distiller, it's always amusing for me to watch this guessing game, especially when some poncy prat over-confidently announces all of the things he detects that simply aren't there.  There are too many variables—often unknown—to be able to accurately identify ingredients, and identifying them serves no useful purpose in evaluation.

 

In the wine world, descriptors are there to help objectively identify nuances and flaws and faults so as to evaluate the wine.  They should serve the same purpose with absinthe.  To most of the world, "robust elecampane" or "timid use of pontica" is far less useful than, say, a "musty, moldy smell and taste reminding me of licking the inside of a stripper's shoe".

 

So yes, comparisons, analogies and impressions are more important—for my money, anyway—than being able to tell me what's in it.  As a producer I've learned far more from the descriptions of the uninitiated (green pepper?) than I have from experts either praising my use of wormwood or criticizing my use of angelica.

 

Edit: Or, you could be all efficient an' shit and just say it Brian's way.  


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#6 Brian Robinson

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 05:27 PM

:laf:


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#7 Ambear

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 09:56 PM

One thing that bugs me the MOST is when people say "this absinthe reminds me of this other absinthe"...well, if I haven't tried the absinthe I'm reading a review of OR the absinthe it's being compared to, I'm basically screwed. I understand some people wanting to grab a bottle of something that's as similar as possible to a product they like (particularly when the product they like is unavailable)...but "tastes like St. Antoine" doesn't help me at all when I haven't gotten to try it.

 

 

I'm also kinda frustrated that people use known descriptors over and over again instead of trying to come up with new (possibly more accurate) descriptions because something like "juicy funk" gets thrown around so often...the exception being people using the different "green" wording used to describe tails. I've seen a boatload of diplomatic ways to say that it tastes like veggie ass.  :thumbup:


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#8 Evan Camomile

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 10:14 PM

I'm at least hoping my wine wasn't stored in leather to give it that taste that people describe. 

 

For me the biggest issue is trying to not be primed. Blind reviewing helps but if I really know a brand in the mix I might say "oh yeah, pisco base" and totally throw the idea of blindness out the window.

 

Amber and I have a guessing game where we attempt to guess what brand the other has prepared without looking. We can be frighteningly accurate sometimes.

 

As guilty as I am for searching out what those flavors were post review I should probably use the original descriptors instead of just naming some obscure herb. This is something I've done with more recent reviews, the only problem being now I can pick out those herbs on the first try anyways.

 

Although if I posted completely unedited reviews I'm pretty sure certain producers would hate me even more than they already do. I don't think "fuck this shit" or "tastes like a nuns tampon" has ever made it to the final posting stage for a review on this site.


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#9 Brian Robinson

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 04:44 AM

You've munched on a lot of 'nun-pons' in your time?  

 

I thought I was the only one!


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#10 Ambear

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 10:33 AM

I was like "WHAT?! What absinthe was that?" Knarr was about that bad.  :twitchsmile:


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