Developing Your Palate
Whether you want to become a connoisseur or simply have the ability to pull out more flavors from cigars and spirits, you have to develop your palate. This will come naturally with time and experience. There are, however, some ways to help speed up the process. Just remember this task is never ending. Even the best sommeliers are constantly refining their palate and adding to their library of tastes. There are lots of ways to help develop your palate. I came up with this acronym to help you remember my steps to do so:
P – Patience
A – Attention
L – Linger
A – Aroma
T – Taste
E – Everything
I know, I know, everyone preaches Patience these days, but it’s the truth. Cigars, spirits, and wine, are luxury goods that are meant to be enjoyed and taken in to help you relax. You’re not supposed to chief a cigar down like a cigarrette. You would never slam a highball of Pappy Van Winkle, would you? So be patient when developing your palate, and remember the old adage, Patience is a virtue! You won’t develop your palate over night. So take the time and enjoy the journey.
If you really want to develop your palate, you must pay attention to the details. If you’re trying a new cigar, take some time and close your eyes when you draw on it. When you’re smelling the foot or wrapper, close your eyes and really take it all in. You don’t have to rush it.
See what memories your taste buds send to your brain. Is it something you’ve had before? If so, your brain will send the signal that it recognizes that flavor. Sometimes the flavor or aroma won’t be overwhelming, it might be buried deep with subtle nuances that you’ll have to dig in to find. Personally, I like to close my eyes and really focus. You might not believe it, but sight can have a great effect on what you taste or smell. So close your eyes, and pay attention to the flavors you’re picking up. It will be hard at first, but after doing it for awhile, you’ll enter a zone and learn how to recognize flavors and aromas easily.
Too often, we don’t let the taste or aroma linger in our presence. Sometimes it’s not your fault. Maybe the wind whisked away the smoke from your cigar and you couldn’t bask in it. That’s ok, you’ll get it next time. This goes hand in hand with Patience and Attention. To really develop your palate, you have to let the flavors linger and give your brain time to identify them.
If you’re drinking a wine or spirit, just let it sit on your tongue and linger to pick up all the nuances in its flavor profile. You bought the 12 year bourbon for a reason, find out why it has such a premium price to it. Let it linger around, and take in all it has to offer. Going back to attention, while you let the flavors linger, pay close attention to whats going on. These are a few of the most important steps to developing your palate.
Developing your palate isn’t just about what your taste buds pick up. All too often people overlook the aroma of a cigar or spirits. In the spirits and wine world, this is called “The Nose”. Most people don’t realize how much the aroma affects the overall taste. Have you ever ever eaten something when you have a sinus infection or allergy? You don’t taste much of anything that’s because your nose isn’t working properly. Your sense of smell is so vital to what flavors your brain perceives. The nose is incredibly sensitive to flavors and aromas. If you don’t take the time to take in the aroma, you’re not doing the product justice.
There are many ways to enjoy or enhance the aroma around you. If it’s a cigar, be sure to waft the smoke towards your nose and close your eyes and see if you don’t notice something different. You can even try to retrohale to pick up other nuances. If you’re enjoying some rum, stick that glass to your nose, and open your mouth and really breathe it in. I bet you will start to smell the difference in 8 year and 12 year aged rums. This same trick works with wine and other spirits, it’s called ‘nosing the glass’. Personally, I think of ice hockey when that term is used, but since we’re in the midst of a lockout, I guess it will have to refer to this technique alone. Remember, aroma is a key aspect of developing your palate, sharpen your nasal senses to pick up everything the product has to offer.
This could be its very own post, and probably should be. However, I’m going to try and keep it concise. There are only 5 things your tongue can taste. Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, and Umami (Savory). That’s it! Everything that you taste can be classified into those 5 categories. There are arguments that different parts of the tongue tastes different flavors. I’ve researched and I haven’t been able to find conclusive evidence to state that to be true or not. Personally, I feel like I can taste different things all over my tongue. There is my proof.
When most people think of developing their palate, they only think about taste. Which is fine, it’s a big factor. It’s not the only one, though. When you combine taste and aroma, magic happens. Both senses combine to give your brain all the information it needs to process the uniqueness of the product that you’re consuming. I have a feeling most people won’t skip out on taste when they develop their palate. Be sure to try and take everything in and really pin down those subtle flavors that you come across. Remember the 5 categories that you can taste. Start broad and then narrow it down from there. Say you’re drinking a bourbon, and instantly you taste something sweet. I typically find sweet flavors on the tip of my tongue. From there I start thinking about things that I know are sweet. Is it chocolatey sweet or caramel sweet? Like I said, start broad and then narrow it down. Your brain may instantly tell you what flavor it is from your memory bank. Then you don’t have to drill down as much, you can go right to the actual flavor. Don’t forget though, developing your palate is a journey, so enjoy it.
Experience everything! When it comes to developing your palate, you have to try to experience all sorts of flavors. If you read a review (preferably mine 🙂 ) and come across a description that you haven’t experienced, go out and try to find that flavor and commit it to your sense’s memory. I once read a review where the writer compared the product to tasting a sweaty gym sock. I’m not exactly sure how he got to that taste, and I’m certainly not telling you to put a sweaty gym sock in your mouth to know what it tastes like. What I am telling you is, if I mention a cedar aroma in a review, and you can’t immediately pull in a memory of what cedar smells like. Then you need to strengthen the memory of that scent.
Take everything in, smell it, taste it, memorize it with your eyes open and closed. When your eyes are closed your other senses take over. I’ve even started experimenting by buying different flavors, and sitting down and memorizing them. I love developing my palate, it helps me with my reviews and helps me to really enjoy all the flavors of the product that I purchased.
Wrapping it Up
Remember the acronym:
P – Patience
A – Attention
L – Linger
A – Aroma
T – Taste
E – Everything
I’ll say it one final time: Developing your palate is a journey, enjoy it!