With less than two months to go before SlowBowl '09, I decided it was time to bring a panel of rank amateurs together to taste my liqueurs and decide which ones would make the final cut for the trip to Paso.
Seven friends arrived bearing their favorite greasy or starchy baked potato topping. (Every freshman college student learns quickly to fill his stomach with starch and grease before serious imbibing - right?)
After eating enormous stuffed-potatoes, we quickly got down to the business of tasting. Here are the 25 varieties I needed them to assess, with a goal of selecting their favorite, or more accurately their least disliked, 10-12 to make the trip.
With a negative-assessment judging sheet, they were asked to taste the sample and then record only their reactions. Their choices were: Too Sweet, Too Bitter, Too Thick, Too Thin, Don't Like. And finally, What Is It? The flavors with the least number of negative votes would be the ones I would take to Paso.
Instead of keeping them all grouped in the three main categories of floral, herb, and fruit, I decided to make the order they were served totally random. Here is lavender being prepared to serve.
I was surprised at how seriously they took the assignment. Overachievers, Jess and Candy, are gloating about being able to identify a particular flavor, and Jane is obviously looking over David's shoulder for some help. Bad girl.
A note about the process. You can imagine what actually drinking 25 different liqueurs could do to your ability to walk upright, never mind drive. So, they were given VERY strict instruction not to swallow. Only to swish and spit. They were given spit cups and water, as well as bread to cleanse their palates between tastes. Most of them were very careful, you can see David's cheeks puffed out as he swished. Once in awhile I could hear someone say something like, "I swallowed that one. It was too good to spit." The biggest offender was Jess, but she wasn't driving anyway, so her headache today is her problem .
Our one non-drinker in the group, Sarah, had the assignment of assessing each one purely on aroma. She is also a bit of a comedienne, as you can see here she kept distracting everyone with her running commentary. Sharon, who was trying to take the assignment very seriously, finally gave in to Sarah's influence.
We discovered a natural in our group. Irene (in the Michigan shirt. We can forgive her for that, I guess.) is a major foodie and my soul mate at the store when it comes to all things cooking. During the tasting, she continually amazed us at her ability to identify not only the major flavors, but also the very subtle ones. I had one liqueur I didn't remember making, and had failed to label.
Irene said, "It has a holiday baking taste to it. Not your usual spices though. Warm, slight lemon. I think something that has a faint overtone of vanilla. Cardamom, maybe".
And sure enough, I got out my old notes and there it was. In 2005 I'd experimented with whole green cardamom seeds. The only one that stumped her was the Tonka Bean. And even on that one she came very close.
"This one is medicinal. Some sort of exotic folk remedy flavor." (In some regions of South America, a very strong form of the active chemical in Tonka is a blood thinner. It is, by the way, banned in the US as a food additive. oops.)
So, to my friends who will be attending SlowBowl, here are the sixteen top qualifiers:
Lime, Russian Tea, Tokyo Rose, Scarborough Fair, Apple Cider, Rose, Sassafras, Witches Brew, Basil Chamomile, Pistachio, Sun Dried Tomato, Goji Berry, Cranberry Orange, Red Clover, Cardamom & Spiced Honey Walnut.
I still have to bring this down to twelve. I think in a few weeks, I'll post a poll on the SlowBowl GTG forum so those attending can make the final selections.