If you’ve been reading our absinthe connoisseur series of posts, and doing your homework (a.k.a. drinking!), you’ve probably developed a nice base of education, giving you some fluency in absinthe conversation. You’re also probably yearning to share your newfound knowledge with others. I know of no other drink that creates so many proselytiser as absinthe does. If you’ve come to the decision that you’d like to introduce a group of people to absinthe, why not host a tasting event?
Absinthe tasting events can be both a bonding experience amongst friends and like-minded individuals as well as a very educational opportunity. However, different situations call for different types of tasting events. A gathering of friends on a Saturday night over pizza probably wouldn’t work well with a double blind formal tasting. Nor would a gathering of absintheurs intent upon formal scoring for publication purposes call for an informal type of tasting. So today’s article will go through both types of events, giving you the ability to conduct either type. We’ll start by describing how to do an informal tasting, and then list the modifications you’ll need to make in order to produce a formal one.
Both types of tastings will need the following:
- A well-lit venue which will allow each person to have a comfortable seat, writing space, and view of the absinthe ritual. For most tastings, something as simple as a dining room will work perfectly.
- A Wormwood Society Scoresheet and Tasting Instructions (or your own WS Tasting Journal) and pen/pencil for each taster – make sure to have enough scoring sheets for each absinthe.
- Several bottles of absinthe – we recommend no more than three or four per tasting as absinthe tends to anethetise the palate after more than that.
- Simple Syrup (sugar and water mixed at 1.5 cups of sugar to 1 cup water) – ideally, have a dropper bottle full of simple syrup at each seat.
- Tasting glasses – enough for each taster to have a clean glass for each absinthe (i.e. 5 tasters and 4 absinthes = 20 glasses). It’s helpful if these are marked at .5 ounce, 2 ounce and 3 ounce levels if the tasters will be preparing their own.
- Plenty of pure spring water and ice.
- Either an absinthe fountain or small individual water carafes or pitchers (water bottles with the pull out spout will also do in a pinch).
- Table water crackers for palate cleansing – Palate cleansing beverages such as Santasti are another plus.
Preparation: Self prepared, or pre-prepared?
The first thing you’ll want to figure out is whether you’ll want everyone to prepare their own glasses, or whether you’d like to hand out samples that have been already prepared. There are pros and cons to each. By having each person prepare their own glass, it becomes a much more tactile experience, but it also could lead to improper preparation. You’ll also need more accessories, or a fountain with more spigots to be able to accommodate the needs of each taster.
On the other hand, if you prepare the samples for them, you can prepare one large glass of absinthe, then decant it into each taster’s glass. This ensures that each taster starts with an absinthe that has been prepared to the exact same ratio of water to absinthe. You can prepare the one large glass in front of the tasters in order to let them observe the louche process. For this approach, you’ll want to prepare 0.5 oz. of absinthe for each taster. So, if you have 4 tasters, then you’ll be preparing 2 oz. of absinthe in the glass.
Since absinthes vary so widely in alcoholic proof and herbal robustness, each will have its own particular ratio that showcases its character best. It’s recommended to first prepare the absinthe at a dilution of 3:1 (3 parts water to 1 part absinthe). If the panelist customarily uses sugar, it may be added after this first taste. Just a few drops of simple syrup should suffice.
Careful observation of the remaining criteria should follow, tasting the absinthe at gradually increasing dilutions. Some absinthes will reveal their “sweet-spot” at as low as 3:1, while others may stand up to as much as 6:1. More sugar may be added as desired.
Have each taster review the tasting instructions as they progress through the different review qualities such as aroma, taste, and finish, assigning a number to each quality. Each reviewer should jot down their own personal notes about each category as well. Encourage them to explain what they are experiencing, and discourage them from trying to pick out individual herbs. Most people won’t know what melissa, coriander, or wormwood really taste like, but they could describe lemon zest, white pepper, mint, chocolate, etc.
Kick it up a notch: How to Conduct a Formal Blind Absinthe Tasting
Blind tastings are essential to the objective evaluation of absinthe, or any other drink or food for that matter. The well-documented “halo effect” influences even the most objective of tasters on a neurological level: products expected to be better, whether because of cues from geographic origin, maker, year, appearance, etc., will taste better.
In one experiment participants were unaware that they were being served identical wine under two different labels, the only difference being the claimed geographic origin. The wine labeled “California” was scored 85% higher than the wine labeled “North Dakota”. Interestingly, the identical bite of cheese that was served with each wine was also scored correspondingly higher or lower.
On top of the supplies you’ve collected for a regular tasting, you’ll also need:
- Two brown paper bags for EACH bottle
- Felt tip marker
- Masking tape
Preparing the blind tasting
Ideally, your tasting panel should be completely unaware of any details of the products they’ll be tasting: the origins, producers, brands or years. In short, they should receive absolutely no cues that might trigger expectations.
One of the best ways to do this is to assure a “double-blind” so that even the coordinators are unaware of what is being served at any given moment and therefore unable to broadcast subconscious cues during serving.
Step 1: Collection
Coordinator A will assemble a small selection of absinthe brands. If any have unusual bottle shapes or sizes, they should be carefully decanted into a perfectly clean wine bottle and carefully labeled.
Step 2: First Blind
Coordinator A will place each bottle in a paper bag such as those that are used by wine and liquor stores, marking each bag with a number and making a note on a separate piece of paper which brand corresponds with which number.
The bottle must be completely covered up to the very top, securing the bag around the bottle’s neck with tape. Only Coordinator A will know which brand is in which numbered bag. Coordinator A will then leave the room (make sure to bring the notes).
Step 3: Second Blind
Coordinator B enters the room and places each bag in a second bag marked with a letter, again securing the necks with tape. Only Coordinator B will know which bottle is in which lettered bag.
The absinthe can now be poured with a fair certainty of anonymity.
Executing the tasting
During the actual evaluation, no one speaks and everyone should refrain from observable reactions of any kind. These may send signals to other panelists, influencing their expectations.
Proceed with the rest of the tasting in the same manner as described above.
We highly recommend that each of the tasters post their scores on the Wormwood Society’s Review Pages.
We hope that this article will help to give you all the confidence to hold your own tasting event! If you’re planning your own tasting event, and still have questions or concerns, feel free to contact us at the Wormwood Society’s main page or forum area.