A Vodka Tasting Guide
A Sensory Approach To This “Neutral” Spirit
We know what you’re thinking: “wait a minute, what’s the point of having a tasting for something that’s inherently ‘flavorless’?” Well, just because vodka is a famously neutral spirit doesn’t mean that there isn’t a wonderfully complex and nuanced world of flavors be drawn out of the various regions, distilling processes and base ingredients that make vodka one of the most diverse spirits in the world.
So pick up a few bottles, call a few friends, and sit down to discuss and takes notes of this surprisingly fascinating spirit.
Picking A Lineup:
First thing is first: always start by including your favorite vodka and/or the vodka you consume the most. This provides a much needed baseline and point of comparison as you begin to work your way down the line. Beyond that a general rule of thumb is to stick to 4-5 selections (after that you’re probably going to be a bit too tipsy to have an genuine revelations about flavor), with 1-2 each covering the respective categories of grain, potato and your more unique base ingredients.
Select Your Drinkware:
When it comes to a proper tasting, it’s time to leave the shot glasses and cut crystal tumblers on the shelf. The ideal glassware is a tulip-style wine glass, which is thin enough to allow for your hand to warm up the liquor (so you can experience the range of flavor changes) and also allows you to capture the entirety of the bouquet when smelling it. If you don’t want possess or have the desire to purchase a set of these glasses, then a small/medium sized wine glass will do just fine.
NOTE: You may also want to compared tastings from copper vessels if you are planning your vodka to be served in a copper mug or other copper drink ware.
As a neutral spirit, one of the biggest influences in how vodka tastes (or more accurately, how we perceive it tastes) is what temperature it’s served at. Though there are a myriad of message boards dedicated to arguing on this matter, for the purposes of a tasting, we believe that you want to pour vodka that’s come straight out of the freezer. Not only is this the centuries-old way of consuming it, it’s the only way you can fully experience it “opening up” as it warms. Gently cupping the glass with your hands to warm it up between sips will reveal layers of unique flavors. Served freezing you’ll experience the mouthfeel, and as it warms up the taste will reveal itself; it’s the only way to get a complete sense of each spirit you try.
Though not as palate-coating as other spirits, you’re still going to want to have an assortment of light snacks available to ignite your taste buds and prepare your palate for the next offering. Though much of it comes down to personal preference, a good baseline is a few moderate to mild cheeses (extremely stinking, gooey offerings need not apply), salted cured meats, and an assortment of crackers. We especially like having club soda on offer as a way to hydrate, but also because the effervescence and sodium content is a wonderful way to prepare your palate for the next vodka.
How To Taste:
- See: Raise the glass to the light and swirl it, allowing it to wash up the sides and back down. Make note of the clarity of the spirit, how it coats the glass and how viscous it is.
- Smell: Most of how we perceive taste actually comes from our olfactory system, so it’s important to get your nose right into the mouth of the glass and deeply inhale the vapors. Do this between sips and as it warms up, noting how the scent changes with temperature. Look for elements like sweetness, medicinal notes, and other comparative elements like fruits, herbs, and foods.
- Sip: Allow the vodka to coat your tongue and mouth, hold it there for a few seconds to allow it to warm. Assess elements like oiliness, creaminess, and viscosity. Draw air through your nose as you hold the vodka in your mouth to combine your sense of taste and smell. Note how the vodka feels upon swallowing and any aftertaste you may experience in its absence.
*Note: DO NOT select any outright ‘flavored’ or ‘infused‘ vodkas, these will throw off the entire tasting.