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.
I have a friend (don't we all?) who is fairly heavily into blind tastings of wine. She is pretty good at this: she can identify grape variety, region, and year probably about 75% of the time.
Of course, the downside to that is that you end up spending all your time tasting wines that you don't actually like that much. Me, I'm the sort of snob who thinks in big pictures: we're having smoked haddock, perhaps, in a creamy sauce. That's a fairly rich dish, as fish goes, but you still want a white wine. Something fairly dry, so the acidity cuts through the cream and smoke, but with a fair depth of flavour. Probably best to go with a chalky soil sauvignon blanc: a Sancerre might be ideal.
The process is similar for whiskies. In this case, there's less need to match them to something else, and you can just go by mood. I prefer Ardbeg's Very Young, but unfortunately it was a limited release, and the remaining bottles are going for around £200 (that's $400-ish). No more for me. Stylewise: very smoky, very peaty. More like drinking a bonfire than a glass of smoke.
My wife and good friend of ours try various whiskeys and other liquors whenever we get together. I am amused by listening to them discuss the various flavors and the benefits and drawbacks of each. I don't doubt that they really do detect all these flavors and scents and whatnot.
But me? All I can taste, all I can ever taste is the overwhelming, unpleasant bitterness of alcohol. Beer, wine, whiskey--whatever. All I taste is alcohol. The only alcoholic drinks I can enjoy at all are sweet, manly drinks like strawberry dacquiris or the like, where there's enough sugar in the mix to cut the alcoholic taste to something bearable.
I suppose I'm missing something, but what can you do?
I hate the smell of beer, and have never tasted it. I dislike the smell of wine, and have hated every one I've tasted. White, red, some sweet desserty stuff... hated it. Later, I discovered that one of the things I hated about them was the taste of grape juice. (Grapes, however, are yummy, and raisins are okay. Grape juice? Rot in hell.) I had a taste of Bailey's Irish Cream once. It tasted like tepid chocolate milk with something cold and nasty in it.
I suppose if anything alcoholic is ever to be found that I'd be willing to drink, it'll be one of those fruity things with little umbrellas and stuff. But it won't be a margarita; I got to taste one last summer and all I remember is that it had the cold nasty in it, and that I hated the rest of it.
I'm more annoyed about the fact that I can't find a way to make tea that I'd like, though. (How can people stand scalding their lips with hot water with a faint different taste in the water taste?)
I'm one of those oddballs who can tell you pretty much every spice/herb/ingredient in a recipe by taste... and I still don't get all those "notes" in wines, coffees, chocolates, etc. I decided years ago they were all bullshit the ad department came up with, lol...
Next time try the Dalmore 12yr - it's about $35 a bottle and in the blind-tastings that about 30+ of my friends and I have* it's beaten out $200 bottles and 21yr's. In the past five years it's been put into the tasting four times and it's placed in the top 5 (out of 20 or more bottles) each year. Twice it's placed second. Just goes to show that price is not always a clear indication of what people will like the best.
My personal overall favorite? Glenlivet - it's middle of the road in pretty much everything: peat, burn, nose, finish and tongue. I've always got a bottle of 12yr, 18yr and 21yr over at our place. The 12 & 18 are 'every day' tastes - the 21 only comes out for 'special occasions'.. Tomintoul is another one that I like (it's a Speyside Glenlivet) and another that I usually keep on hand.
*yeah, I'm one of those people who actually can pick out those subtle variances in flavor to determine region (if not particular distiller) and age. I might not be as descriptive - I refuse to use 'hint' and 'note' references - but when you're tasting 20+ bottles at a time you a) get very drunk and b) learn to pick out subtly.
Some people do have "ignorant" pallets, and some just cannot distinguish between Coors and Spaten, (a good German beer.) I have a friend who does not like wine so the subtleties of the drink totally escape him.
I'm pretty sure you were joking, but on the off chance that you weren't...
Um, yeah, people *can* taste oak in wine, although you'd never know it was oak unless you'd smelled freshly cut oak planks.
It tastes like vanilla (or as certain others have pointed out, *smells* like vanilla, since vanillins don't have taste receptors of their own). It's one of the few wine flavours that's *not at all* subtle or subjective or hard to notice.