If you’ve read Bourbonr for a while you’re used to these quirky posts. If not, hear me out before you write this off as clickbait trash. Taste is subjective. What I think is incredible bourbon, you may think is swill. Those kinds of disagreements are normal in the whiskey world. But, what about when you disagree with your own tasting notes?
Over the years I’ve tasted a lot of different bourbon in a lot of different environments. Different environments definitely affect taste. I’ve tasted a bourbon at a bar and loved it. Then, I tasted the same bourbon at home and hated it. Even tasting the same bourbon at home a week apart seems to change the flavor profile. What makes up this difference? Oxidation seems to be the go-to answer if you follow Bourbon on Facebook. But, it has more to do with changes in our palate than it does with the whiskey itself. How do we combat this? I’m glad you asked!
A few months back, I read an article where chef Eric Ripert described his process for tasting sauces. When a James Beard award-winning chef describes how to taste you take notes. Here’s what he said:
Waiting on a plate are about a dozen cubes of Swiss cheese. Ripert takes one before tasting the sauces. “This way, I know what I am tasting,” he says. “The Swiss cheese is always the same, but if it feels salty or bland, I know my palate is off.”
Of course, swiss cheese is still a little too fancy for Bourbonr. I decided to grab the kids string cheese we seem to have an infinite amount of in our refrigerator. Like the swiss cheese Eric Ripert used, string cheese is plain and consistent. There’s no batch variation. It’s definitively homogenized. And, that is what we’re looking for. I was surprised when certain foods and different days affected the taste. Eating it after something sweet made it taste creamier. Some days it tasted saltier. Other days it tasted the exact same as it always did. This gave me a baseline going into a whiskey review. If my palate seemed to be sensitive to sweet it was clear in the review. Without the sting cheese test, I would’ve assumed it was a sweeter bourbon.
I’ve put together a routine for reviewing days. Here’s the Bourbonr pre-tasting system. Avoid acidic or highly flavored food and drink for at least a couple of hours. That means you may need to skip the afternoon coffee or tea. Don’t eat anything spicy. Pass on vinaigrettes or other acidic dressings. About 10 minutes before the tasting eat a piece of swiss (or string) cheese. Adjust your perceived taste. Get started with the tasting! I’ve bee using this method for the last few months. So far, I’ve seen a noticeable change in my palate between days. By introducing a constant my bourbon reviews are more consistent.