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".