Like beer, spirits have a wide range of tastes and aromas. Lots of things contribute to the flavor profile of a liquor: its ingredients, how it’s aged and what it’s aged in, how many rounds of distillation it’s gone through, where it’s made, plus certain x factors we can’t quite put our finger on. Even considering all this, spirit categories generally share traits in common. While tastes and smells vary between each individual spirit (even within a brand!), in general, this is what you’ll sniff out and taste while drinking popular spirits.
Gin is flavored with botanicals – spices, herbs, and other flavoring agents (like fruit). While different types of gin contain different botanicals (compare Hendrick’s to Bombay Sapphire, for instance), all gins share one botanical in common: juniper. Other common botanicals include cinnamon, ginger, citrus, and coriander.
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Bourbon is an American whiskey that has to have a mash bill of at least 51% corn. So naturally, corn is a flavor that comes through, but barrel aging also brings out flavors like caramel, vanilla, honey, and wood. Sweeter fruit flavors like orange and prune can also pop up.
Made from agave, tequila is a fascinating spirit that can feature both tangy sharpness as well as rounder, softer sweetness. Look out for acidic flavors like citrus and coffee in younger tequilas, and similar deep whiskeyesque notes (like wood, vanilla, and caramel) in older tequilas.
Due to its incorporation of peat (a type of robust moss), Scotch is often associated with smoke. While smoke is certainly present in a lot of Blended Scotches, there’s much more to this Scottish spirit than that. Put your nose to work and search for floral and nutty aromas, then search your palate for honey-drenched malt and a little bit of fruit rind.
While we have no problem with vodka (in fact, we like it: try making one of these vodka sodas!), we have to admit, there isn’t a whole lot of smell in this clear spirit. The tastes found in vodka are usually very subtle, so we’ll leave those to the tongue of the beholder.