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Palate Development: How to Create Your Own ‘Rolodex’

palate development mouth

Palate development is a frequent subject of inquiry we get from students. In fact, we dedicate three separate modules to learning about and tasting different spirits (one module for neutral grain alcohol, rum, and tequila, one for whiskey, and one for fortified wine).

And that’s because…

As Nimble Co-founder, Kyle put it…

“It doesn’t get much more entertaining than Nate talking about spirits.”

Whether you work in wine/beer/spirits, or all of the above, being able to relay information clearly and sell using imaginative language is vital to your success. 

But remember…

Everyone has different palates, period. There is a reason some of the population taste soapy flavors when eating cilantro vs others who love it. Some like funky and some prefer fresh.

“One person I was tasting single malts with said of one that it tasted like ‘dragon tail whipping against wet flint.’ 

While this is a bit romantic and exaggerated, everyone in the room could imagine what that would potentially smell/taste like (as crazy as that sounds 🤯 ).

Be bold, use specific experiences/nostalgia to help paint the picture.

Don’t be embarrassed/quiet about describing something because you believe people will think it’s stupid.”

~Nate Caudle, Nimble Co-founder

So, how do you go from…

to dragon tail whipping against wet flint?!

How can you actually work on your palate development so you can describe flavours like a pro?

Well, we can’t promise to insert that specific adjective into your flavour lexicon 😅 …but if you put in the work, these steps will help with palate development so you can become a confident taster.

  1.  ☝🏼 Make it a Mindset: Take the Bourdain approach—smell and taste as many things as you can in this life. No ingredient is too weird, no tiny specialty shop or sketchy grocery should be unexplored. You are going to stay limited in your approach if all you have access to is Save on Foods. Find an herbalist for crazy botanicals. Get some chicken hearts and mackerel for dinner. Buy some obscure Japanese candies that you have no idea what is in them. There is no youtube video that can translate to your brain what durian fruit actually smells like! Recall and familiarity come from experience. 
  2. ☝🏼 Take Notes Like Mad: This is imperative when you are first starting out and have no baseline. Allocate a notebook to make tasting notes and organize it by spirit type, beer styles, or wine varieties. (In the wine world for example, there is a standardized approach to this. A primary descriptor would be something like red fruit, or black fruits. A secondary descriptor would be a more developed note like butter, oak or biscuit pertaining to the yeast and barrel influences. A tertiary descriptor is reserved for things that have matured into something unique and pronounced like hazelnut, saddle & leather, or mushrooms.) A simple notebook works, but you can also
  3. ☝🏼 Decide on a tasting system that works for you (but do it spirit by spirit) 
    • If you’re already in the industry, ask for a half ounce pour of your chosen spirit after every shift, in place of a staff drink. Pay for it if you have to. Hopefully managers are accommodating since it’s in the name of education 😉 . After you have an idea of what most spirits taste like on a foundational level, test your taste buds and get someone else to pour you a mystery sample. Scan the back bar, and first rule out what it ISN’T, then move onto guessing what it IS.
    • If you’re not in the industry…
      • Support your local tasting rooms! Ask the bartender or a friend to order/pour you a flight: if they have descriptors of the alcohol, see if you can pick out which is which. 
      • Go to your favorite bar and order a one ounce pour, neat. Make notes on what you taste. Do it with a friend. Brainstorm together!
      • Invest in a home bar and taste/make notes on that booze!

Getting people to ‘blind taste’ with is a huge one that helped me dial in over the years with colleagues. This also doesn’t mean getting hammered. You are fully capable of swishing and absorbing flavors and then spitting into a cup. This is how the pros do it in the wine & spirits world. You need to be able to function as sometimes you are tasting entire portfolios of products from reps before a service.

~Nate Caudle, Nimble Co-Founder

In conclusion, when it comes to palate development, unfortunately, there is no hack or easy way to do it. Like any muscle or skill in life – it takes reps. The steps above will help you accelerate the process and turn you into a confident taster, if you’re new in the industry or just looking to be a more discerning drinker. Cheers!

Related:  How to Become a Bartender that Any Bar in the World Will Hire (+ Free Script for Job Applicants)

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Nathan Caudle

Nathan Caudle

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