One of my most rewarding experiences thus far in spirits was learning the difference between blanco, reposado, and añejo tequila from my own tongue rather than a book.
It’s overwhelming at first to look at someone else’s tasting notes of a spirit when all you taste is alcohol. I would browse /r/scotch and look at people’s amazing tasting notes with pear and honey and iodine; all these various tastes that would never remind you of whisky.
Anytime I tasted whisky, all I tasted was whisky!
Over time, my senses improved, little by little.
One day, I brought home my first añejo tequila (it was on sale, bringing it into my price range for the first time). I expected it to be more complex than a blanco or reposado, but I didn’t expect what hit me when I foolishly attempted to make a margarita with it.
It turns out añejos are no good at making margaritas.
The vegetal, pungent agave taste which is so important in a margarita was simply missing. I felt sort of robbed when sipping it. Añejos tend to be the most expensive tequilas, and with good reason: añejos are aged longer than reposados, and aging requires an investment that takes time to pay off.
Still, I thought, if I payed more to get an older tequila, shouldn’t it at least be able to make a margarita worth the cost?
I decided to try the different tequilas against each other. I poured a small flight of blanco, reposado, and añejo into nosing glasses and tasted them in turn.
The blanco had the obvious agave taste that I had expected to find, and missed, in my ill-fated margarita.
When I tried the reposado, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: the vegetal taste was slightly dampened!
It was still pronounced, and to this day I wouldn’t be able to say with confidence that I could tell you blindfolded whether a tequila was a blanco or reposado, but I did notice there was less of the vegetal agave present.
Then I tried the añejo. This time, I did notice the agave flavor, but I also saw exactly why I couldn’t taste it through the lime juice and cointreau in my unfortunate cocktail.
It was very subtle. It tasted like a mere shadow of the other two tequilas.
This was fascinating to me. It suddenly became apparent what aging does to tequila. When I first saw a more experienced spirits professional mention this effect, it was a sweet, lively, well-balanced margarita of vindication!
My palate is far from perfect. I still get nervous sharing my tasting notes, because I know there are lots of more experienced and finely-honed palates out there owned by people who will call me out on dozens of missed notes and things I thought I had correctly identified.
But this was a sign post that told me I was progressing. It showed me that my palate was improving: I’m learning to pick out flavors better.
What’s your level of confidence in your senses?
How sure are you that what you think you taste is something other people can notice as well?
I put myself at a 7/10. When I started, I’d have put myself at a 2/10. Leave your answer in the comments!