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Gin Tasting 1: What Does Gin Taste Like?

In the last post, I talked about how you can do your own tasting. In this post, I’ll give one example where my spouse and I created our own tasting. Basically, we wanted to answer this question: “What does gin really taste like?”

The Start to “What Does Gin Taste Like?”

After purchasing a variety of gins, my spouse and I finally began our gin tasting. We were overwhelmed by the number of gins we purchased. We procrastinated starting our tastings because we didn’t know where to start. We had wanted to start with one of each type of gin. However, we didn’t know what type of gin category some of our purchases fall into.

In our efforts to learn more about spirits, in general, we have been reading “The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits” by Bill Owens which we purchased at Adventures in Homebrewing. It discusses different styles of spirits, including the different types of gin. It also has a good number of photos. We learned a lot from it and we like the pictures.  🙂

Reading about the different types of gin was educational. But it still wasn’t straightforward to figure out what category some of the gins fell into. Some are obvious. Genever is obvious because it always seems to say “genever” on the bottle. London dry gins often have that on the bottle. Most other gins are less obvious.

We Set Goals to Determine “What Does Gin Taste Like?”

Our main goal was merely that we not burn-out our palate, which is easy to do when tasting spirits. With this in-mind, we made two decisions:

  1. We would taste as few items in a tasting as practical. For our first tasting, we picked just three gins.
  2. We would use small glasses so that we would not over-pour. While some people might throw out the extra, we would probably not do that. It’s just not in our nature to throw it away.

Experimenting With Glassware


Drinkware Does Make a Difference

You’ve likely seen the wide variety of glasses available for tasting things, such as wine. You can be skeptical and think this is all a ploy to get your to spend more money on various drinkware. It is and it isn’t. The drinkware you use does actually make a difference. You don’t need it all to start with. You might never need it unless you really, really want to. But it does make a difference. Once you being doing tastings, if you switch your drinkware around, you’ll start to develop your palate and nose to recognize this.

In our efforts not to over-pour, we selected from the odd array of small glasses we’ve accumulated. We decided not to use anything with a stem, though. With all the tasting, writing notes, pouring, and our manic gesticulations, it would be too easy and too much like us to swat one right off the table. Short and squat glasses were our target.

As we started tasting, it quickly became obvious that not all short and squat glasses are up to the task. The best glasses were those that were wide and with the straightest and slightly slopes sides, to increase the surface area. Otherwise, it was just too difficult to smell anything. Thus, extremely narrow sipping glasses didn’t work nor did the ones with very narrow bottoms, as all the gin sat down in a narrow area not wide-enough to give an aroma. Our favorite glass was one that was about 1.5″ diameter, about 2.5″ high and with sides that barely sloped. This gave good surface area and we didn’t have to pour a lot as, at that height, the gin wasn’t that far from our nose even with a small pour.

The Gins to Start “What Does Gin Taste Like?”

These were the gins we tasted, in order of tasting:

  1. Martin Miller
  2. Aviation
  3. New Amsterdam

Lesson # 1: Learning Takes Time and Practice

We realized in smelling and tasting these gins that we have no real idea what we’re doing. We studied the types of herbs and spices that go into gin, but it’s not the same thing as being able to recognize them. Thus, any descriptions I give are just our own wild guesses and not remotely scientific.

Lesson # 2: Gins Do Vary Wildly

Beyond reading the book and knowing there are multiple types of gin, even in just tasting three of them, we are starting to realize that gins vary wildly. American gin might have requirements on the amount of juniper used for flavoring, but all bets are off on the final flavor, as the combinations for the rest of the flavors are endless.

Lesson # 3: Group Like Gins Together, If Possible

In order to describe this, I need to go back and talk about the gin-tasting, itself. #1 (Martin Miller) and #3 (New Amsterdam) seemed to have an aroma and flavor primarily of juniper and citrus. That makes them sound much alike, but the types of citrus were different and they really were quite different, even though they had related flavors. Saddled between these, gin #2 (Aviation) smelled to me like hair and tasted just plain nasty. It was just a horrible experience.

Not 72 hours later, my spouse picked up the Aviation gin all by itself and strongly encouraged me to give it another shot. Alone, it was really quite nice. It had a unique herbal quality that was entirely lost when it sat between the two highly citrus gins.

The lesson is that maybe it’s more important to group similar gins together than to try to taste one of each type in a sitting. Hey, we learned this by doing. We didn’t know this ahead and that’s just part of the learning process.

Then, Here’s How We Grouped the Gins

Except for the Genevers, which are easy to set aside for their own tasting group, the rest of the gins remain something of a mystery. However, in this first tasting, it seemed fairly easy to distinguish the more citrus-like gins and our new plan is that we open every gin we have (except the genevers) and just smell them. That’s our plan for sorting them. If one bottle smells remotely similar to another, they will be grouped-together. If something smells horrible, it will be set aside for sorting at another time after our sense of smell has recovered from the first round of this.

Do We Water Them Down, as is Done in Some Spirits Tastings?

My spouse had been to both a scotch tasting and a bourbon tasting, last month. Each mixed half water with half spirit. This is done partly to keep you from burning out your palate on the spirits but it also helps bring out some of the flavors.

After sipping straight gin, we did add a little water to each of our glasses. It does work. It did bring out the favors in a unique and pronounced way. However, it also makes the gin seem oily and unpleasant. And, in fact, while it does help bring out the flavors, I found that, with gin, I personally found it kind of disgusting, but my spouse did not agree. Unlike bourbon or scotch, which seem to hold their own when mixed with water, my opinion is that gin does not.

I have truly mixed feelings about this. One one hand, I found it kind of gross, on the other hand, there are flavors I wouldn’t have tasted, otherwise. Once again, this is just my personal opinion and my spouse doesn’t agree, so I would say you might want to just try this for yourself and form your own opinion about it.

Still Working on “What Does Gin Taste Like?”

This is just the beginning of this journey. Tasting three specific gins doesn’t answer our question, “What does gin taste like?” They’re all quite different and we know there are a lot of choices out in the craft gin market.

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