In the wake of Sideways, we're all pretty familiar with the four S's of wine tasting: swirl, sniff, sip, spit… then proceed to ramble about "hints of chocolate and clover." Spirits tasting is pretty much the same, but there’s no need to study up on the jargon—"tasty" and "icky" will suffice.
First, gently sniff the glass just at the rim. Note what you smell. Anything medicinal or harshly alcoholic is a bad sign. Next, take a small sip and let it roll around on your tongue before swallowing. It may burn—or just warm up your throat as "smooth" liquors will do. Then sip again after taking a bite of food, noting how the flavors play off each other, and whether they get more complex and exciting. Last, Blue recommends splashing a touch of spring water into the spirit so you can see how it reacts to being mixed. The slight dilution will actually bring any "off" flavors or odors to the forefront.
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BEYOND BAR SNACKS
Spoil your guests with one of the following pairings:
Vodka goes swimmingly with almost anything fishy: oysters, caviar, cured salmon. Throw in some high-quality brine-packed olives for a super-salty punch.
Olives pair well with gin, too (think dirty martini), as do store-bought cheddar cheese straws or English Stilton cheese.
Chips, guacamole, and tequila make a classic combo, but why not shake things up with takeout Asian chicken satay skewers? The flavors are a perfect match.
Light rum also goes beautifully with chicken satay, as well as with sugarcane shrimp (rum is made from cane juice). Dark rum, made from molasses, calls out for sweet barbecued pork—pick some up at your favorite BBQ or Chinese joint.
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Odd as it sounds, Scotch and sushi are a match made in heaven. (Perhaps that's why the Japanese adore whisky.) Bourbon is delectable with barbecue or cubes of glazed ham.