So, What is Single Variant Tasting?
Tasting the same drink recipe made several times, while changing only a single component for each version.
Why is this important?
Developing your tasting skills is laborious to say the least. There are so many versions of cocktails, and even more variety in the spirits one can use for the same recipe.
When developing recipes professionally, or tasting for fun, it's essential to understand that each component of a drink has a profound impact on the final product. I like to refer to this as the "GIGO effect" which is "Garbage in, Garbage out". The final drink can only be as good as the quality of the components that went into them. You can't create a "craft cocktail" by throwing together whatever dusty bottles you have in your back storage. Don't destroy a great liquor by pairing it with a sub-par mixer.
If you don't use fresh squeezed, local and organic juices whenever possible, you're doing it wrong. If your mixer contains red dye #40 and a slew of artificial ingredients you can't pronounce, start writing your resignation, or LEVEL UP! Who wants to drink that crap anyways?
In my first-ever meeting with the Oregon Bar Guild, I attended a Single Ingredient Variant Tasting for Margaritas! It was an unusually hot Sunday afternoon and Margaritas fit the bill beautifully. As a welcome drink, everyone was invited to have a "Base Margarita", a standard recipe to set the palate, and create a benchmark for our tastebuds. It was a reference point for our "taste memory" so we could dissect the variables more noticeably.
The tastings were grouped by 3 major variants: Spirit, Citrus, Modifier, and finally there was a Mezcal version to demonstrate an outlier to the traditional Margarita Recipe. Each Variant Category had 3 options.
The 3 Spirits:
- Pueblo Viejo- 104 proof Blanco
- Siete Leguas Reposado
- Casa San Matias
The 3 Citrus:
- Persian Lime
- Key Lime
- Pasteurized Lime
The 3 Modifiers:
- Combier Orange
- Combier Royal
- Agave Syrup
2 oz Spirit
1 oz Citrus
0.75 oz Variant
0.25 oz Simple Syrup
+ 1/2 oz water to simulate melting ice
2 Key Points
Diffused vs Non-Diffused Tequila:
Diffusers are used in processing agave to squeeze a higher yield of sugars from the dry agave fibers. The process of diffusing strips a lot of flavor compared to more traditional methods of extracting the raw materials from the plants. The modernized process may be faster, cheaper, and produce higher yields, but results in a lower quality product, that often is enhanced with artificial flavors. The chemical formulations used to flavor sometimes are unnaturally sweet, or have a chemical/medicinal like aftertaste. Look into your label, and check to see what process they use. Just because it is a "premium" priced product doesn't mean it's made with any care.
Pasteurized vs Unpasteurized Lime
Canned, boxed, and packaged juices are often pasteurized to reduce the chances of bacteria present, and increase the shelf life of the product. The process of pasteurization heats the product to a high enough temperature to kill off unwanted microbes. The heating process dramatically changes the flavor, especially with citrus juices. Flavor will be impacted by both the heating temperature, and the length of heating. I highly recommend only making drinks with fresh squeezed juices, and use within a day to prevent oxidation or contamination. Always keep fresh squeezed juices refrigerated.