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Techniques: the truth about tasting overproofs.

 
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Capn Jimbo
Rum Evangelisti and Compleat Idiot


Joined: 11 Dec 2006
Posts: 3467
Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Sun Mar 16, 2014 3:12 am    Post subject: Techniques: the truth about tasting overproofs. Reply with quote

The faux-reviewers just don't seem to get it...


Let's start here: Ralfy. This wonderful gentleman is a treasure. Honest, transparent and just like us - just with a better collection and a great palate. Just like us, he buys his own spirits. Just like us he cares not what the bottle looks like, but rather what's in it. Just like us he rejects marketing, coloring and anything we'd call dishonest or impure. But for purposes of this post...

He adds water to whisky.

And how is that? It would be fair to say that knowledgable whisky tasters' and reviewers' consensus is that most spirits taste best in the 43 to 45% range. Tasty, but not dominated by the alcohol. That's exactly why many drinkers get woodies over a bottle delivered at "barrel strength". And just why is that? Do they intend to just pour one, throw it back and cry out "Argghhhh"?

Hardly.

They are pleased because of two things: first, that the barrel strength bottle is brimming with flavor missing in a pussified 40% spirit and second? Value. They know that properly diluted that bottle will go a lot, lot farther to provide drinking enjoyment. Watch Ralfy - when he tastes a high proof whisky well yes, he'll note its aroma and and record a tiny taste but what happens then? Yup, out comes his precision dilutring instrument - his famous teaspoon - and into his dram goes two to three teaspoons of water. Indeed, he will often add a small splash to even lower proof whiskies for yet another reason.

It releases flavor. The lower proofs don't really need dilution, but the addition of water is known to chemically release hidden flavors. Trust me this works. All, in all the addition of water is almost mandatory in tasting.


But not the arsehole faux rum reviewers!

I can't tell how many of these self-inflating reviewers actually make it a point of pride to taste an overproof at full strength, then explain how manly and strong it is - fully described with the words of warfare and how they - our heroes - survived the experience. They then actually review the OP on the basis of the overpowering alcohol and bite and their scores - and the otherwise fine rum - suffers. Read a review of Wray & Nephews OP sometime and you'll see what I mean.

W&N is actually a superb overproof and earned a rare and glowing 5-star review by Dave Broom, who called the best overproof rum you can buy. Listen to his description...

Quote:
"Nose is clear and bright. Rounded, rich with ripe banana, molasses, lime and a touch of cashew. Has real substance. Good, clean spirit. The palate is ripe. Showing notes of banana, grass, nuts and sweetness. That cashew note keeps things crisp. A grassy and long finish.

The best overproof on the market. Punchy but classy"


Ask yourself - is this what you got from W&N? And then - but did you taste it with water? I can tell you that most of the fat faux reviewers didn't - to the contrary they made sure NOT to add water and thence to explain just how exciting it was to face off with firewater. They promote their ignorance as a point of pride. The truth be told, it is possible to obtain some of Broom's (or your own) qualities with some very, very slow and careful microsips. But I'd venture a guess that most don't even do that.

When we reviewed W&N we were thankfully aware of the need to taste it properly, and did add water very carefully (to follow). You can read the review for itself.


So how to proceed?

If Ralfy et al has convinced you the next issue is how to proceed. Now for the anal retentive among you - yes, you can used distilled. Want to do that? Go right ahead. But unless your tap water is pretty horrible, that'll work too. And how to add it? Again for the AR's, you could use a little eyedropper or for the rest of us Ralfy's sophisticated teaspoon will do just fine.

Now of course it's good to first taste the spirit full strength for a baseline. First up? Breathing. Let the firewater breathe fer gawdssake. This is not a 40% where you just dive it. Leave it on the table for at least 5 minutes. You may even get some aromas then, but when finally ready to actually nose, do approach carefully, Don't just jam your nose in there, but wave the glass a safe distance under your nose and gradually and carefully approach it.

When ready for a taste, proceed likewise - very, very slow and measured micro-sips. Very tiny. Don't pay any attention to the first sip or two as your tongue needs to adjust a bit. Don't push it, you're just going for an imipression. Now your'e ready to really taste it...

If it's lower proof you might add a few drops at a time as you continue to nose and taste it. Ralfy has been known to just plop in a teaspoon. Remember you can always - slowly - add more water and see what happens. Note the flavors opening up. For a true OP you can add a teaspoon (to an ounce) right away. Ralfy may go up to 2 or 3 of them.

A great rum to try this with is the aforesaid Wray & Nephews. See if you can get some of what Dave Broom found and see if you agree. See if you are getting more aromas and tastes (you will).


Flat Ass Bottom Line


Adding water needs to a regular part of tasting almost any spirit from 40% on up, but absolutely on true overproofs (50% on up). To fail to do so is an unqualified mistake.
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Last edited by Capn Jimbo on Thu Feb 19, 2015 2:23 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Hassouni
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Joined: 05 May 2013
Posts: 438

PostPosted: Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

So, I pretty much try to buy whiskies at least 46%, and have many in the 50-60+ range (same goes for a few rums too).

I have to say, I find up to 50% quite drinkable neat, but for sure something like WNOP gets water or an ice cube. Smith & Cross I add a small splash of water. And to many of the 46%+ whiskies and rums I'll add a tiny drop just for aroma-enhancement rather than dilution. And so on.

I am curious about one thing, though. You said:
Quote:
They are pleased because of two things: first, that the barrel strength bottle is brimming with flavor missing in a pussified 40% spirit


Quite so. But if the end user is adding water to take it down to 40%, isn't that stripping the flavor out?

Anecdotally, I've found when I diluted S&C or LH151 scientifically to 40%, the results were anemic and simply tasted watered down, even when I let everything settle, sealed, overnight. Personally I think 46% is the sweet spot, though I've never deliberately tried to dilute an overproof to 46%.

Ralfy adds quite a lot of water, and if that aids his tasting, then more power to him. I clearly don't have as developed a palate as he does, but I know that if I added water in the same proportions as he does, I'd consider the contents in my glass to be "watery whisky."

I've read numerous articles about the flavor/aroma effects of dilution, but after a point it ceases to be beneficial, as far as I'm concerned, and for me, that point is higher than 40%. Perhaps there's something I don't understand that gets lost when a vat of spirit is diluted and bottled vs diluted in the glass and drunk nearly immediately.




*******
Capn's Log: Oops. I didn't mean to imply to dilute it to 40%; actually the goal is to find your very own "sweet spot. I'd agree completely that's probably somewhere around the low/mid 40's, but who's counting. The important thing is that one can should add water to an overproof by starting with a bit and adding more as needed.
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Capn Jimbo
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Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good post, well done...


Hass, we'd surely agree that spirits in the mid 40's seem ideal, and so do many experienced tasters. And yes, we've done tastings even on undiluted OP's. It can be done. Further, all of us have our own tasting regimens which I will be the first to here admit, doesn't often include water if were not dealing with an overproof.

As for 40%r's its way too easy to not even consider adding water. I think what we and others forget is the ability of even a few drops of water to open up the experience, regardless of its proof and our hardy tongues. Ralfy - and we - are suggesting that in the future we all ought be more conscious of this possibilty. Yes, we should taste as usual, but yes its worth trying a few drops of water just to see what it may do.

We should all try this. Tell you what. Go get one of the rums you know well, like and usually sip straight. Right now - and pour a dram, get familiar and then add a touch of water, drops really and see. Then a few more, et al, and finally post what you found if anything.

A grand quickie survey in the moment. As soon as Sue Sea is up we'll try it with either Pussers or Seales Ten...
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