Once a year, I spend $75 on a good bottle of Scotch Whisky and bring it to Karla's birthday party. Last year, I brought Talliskers; this year, I brought Cragganmore. I break open the bottle, and ask everyone to take a taste. In this way, we can slowly get an idea of the difference between the various kinds of whiskies. And so it came to pass that I was sitting there with Nate and Genevieve, snobbing it up.
"It's not as peaty as the Talliskers," Nate noted, sipping the Cragganmore with relish.
"And it has a really quick drop off the back end," Geneveive sighed, swishing it around in his mouth.
Bill was standing there, looking confused and envious. "I don't taste any of that," he said, looking down in his glass as though he might be able to see the peat if he squinted hard enough. "I don't have a really good palate. You guys all taste these zillions of things, but I don't get anything."
"Who says we do?" I asked. "We could be faking it. It's really easy, and you can look all cultured without tasting a damn thing. Want me to show you how?"
Step 1: Smell the Drink.
Stick your nose into the glass. Sniff deeply, then close your eyes as though you're processing a lot of things simultaneously. Even if you smell nothing, act as though this drink is a cornucopia of sensations and you're sorting through all of them.
Do not speak. Scent is pretty easy to verify, so if you guess wrong then everyone will know what a yutz you are. If someone ventures their own review as to what it smells like, frown as though you're too busy concentrating on this intense bouquet to interrupt it with stupid words. This automatically gives you the edge, since as a conneisseur you know enough not to discuss anything until the full tasting is over.
Step 2: Drink the Drink.
Take a mid-sized sip, then roll it around in your mouth. Don't swish - that's for chumps - but kind of splash it around on your tongue.
Then - and this is the most important part - hold the glass away from you at an angle. Freeze as though your entire body is concentrated upon analyzing this taste in your mouth. Narrow your eyes and look upwards as you pretend to process this beverage, taking your time as you give every impression of savoring the flavor.
After a minute, bob your head just a little, as though coming to a conclusion.
Step 3: Finish the Drink.
Swallow it and then open your mouth, breathing in. Some people claim they can feel the drink mutate upon their palate as the air rushes over their tongue; they are liars, but convincing ones. And now you can be one of them.
Step 4: Decide Upon Your Pronouncement.
Now, to understand how to be a proper snob, you must understand two things about taste:
1) Taste is a bell curve.
2) Nobody fucking knows what they're talking about.
The first point is easy; you don't taste everything all at once. There's actually a rise and flow to the taste process, starting from when the food touches your tongue, building to the intense mid-section, and then dropping off into an aftertaste. In the case of a McDonald's hamburger, what you'd taste first would be the squishiness of the bread and the oversalted burger, rising to the chewy dog food of the burger itself as you mash it around, ending with that greasy oil slick that coats your throat at the end.
You may never experience this yourself, but trust me when I say that it does happen. You just gulped some whisky, but the foodies experienced a three-act play in their tastebuds. So you must be aware of this flow.
The second part involves understanding that taste is an intensely personal experience, which is to say that you can say pretty much anything and nobody knows any better. In fact, unless you're drinking with a sommelier who knows what she's doing - in which case let her tell you what's in it and nod a lot - then everyone is afraid that maybe they're the ones who don't know what they're doing.
If you say, "I taste a faint hint of paprika," they don't go, "Wow, what a liar" - they become paranoid because they don't taste it. Maybe you're the guy with the super taste buds who catches everything. There they are, sipping this drink and only getting a third of its full bouquet, and if they really had the genetics to appreciate it the way that you do they would taste paprika.
You can say anything. You think people taste oak in a wine? Fuck no. Who the hell eats oak? These fuckers want you to think they're walking around taking bites out of dogwood trees so they can tell what kind of barrel the wine came from - they're awful, awful fakers. And if they can tell you what country the oak came from, the first note you should mark in their aroma is a seething, overwhelming bullshit.
So fake away! But there are guidelines.
First, if you're faking it, everything is faint - you want to talk in terms of hints, notes, and shades. Give the impression that you only barely caught this delicate wisp of a flavor because you were concentrating so intensely back in Step 2. You want to let them tell you what the overwhelming taste of the drink is; it's your job to bat clean-up and talk about shit they might have missed.
Second, some flavors are better than others. Paprika is actually a bad example, since that's a spice. Generally, you want to only talk about flowers and fruits, with maybe some hints of leafy spices when you want to show off. ("Mint" is bad, but "oregano" can be gotten away with if you're an expert.) The only exception is beer, where you want to talk about breads and chocolate flavors; starches are good for beers.
And remember: natural is better than fake.
GOOD: "I taste a hint of blackberry."
BAD: "The tang of Fruit Roll-Ups."
So pick a taste, and pick a place - which is to say it's at the beginning or the end of the curve. (You never want to taste anything in the middle, where the intense flavors are. Remember, you're picking up the transmissions from Alpha Tau.)
When in doubt, go with blackberry. It shows up everywhere.
Step 5: Making Your Pronouncement
When you speak, speak slowly, as though you're coming to a conclusion. Then break out with it.
"I taste a hint of blackberry just at the finish."
Either people will agree with you, or they won't. If they agree with you, great! They don't taste shit, either. You can now tell them you're catching a splash of Strawberry Go-Gurt in the fourth and down, and they'll just nod and stare. You have bolloxed a bunch of clueless snobs; take a bow!
If they don't agree, then frown a little. They won't ever say, "Bullshit! You fucker!" Instead, they'll say, "Really? I don't taste that...."
Stick to your guns. You caught it. Take another sip as though to confirm, repeat the process and say, "No. Still there for me. Not for you, though?" Then laugh about how weird taste is, that some folks catch things that others do. Then spend the rest of the evening nodding and agreeing with the other snobs, only occasionally venturing a guess, because if you spend the entire evening contradicting them then the game is up.
And that's it! By the end of the evening, Bill had learned his lessons, and now he can stare quietly at the ceiling and then talk about the bouquet along with the rest of us awful, awful liars.
Now you, too, can fake anyone out. Remember: use this power only for good, never evil. Or to get laid, whichever comes first.