Are you often not able to differentiate between a Belvedere and an Absolut, or a Smirnoff and a Finlandia, until you read the label? Well, surprising as it may sound, it’s not your ignorance about vodkas but your smoking habit that’s the real culprit. “Smoking numbs our taste buds, so everything on the palate seems the same,” says Finnish master taster Markku Raittinen, who was recently in the Capital. “A regular diet of extreme strong flavours such as chilli should also be avoided,” advises Raittinen, adding that he only gets to enjoy an occasional cigar, but has never smoked a cigarette. No wonder, often when you’re not able to enjoy your drink and end up on a chain smoking trail, it only worsens your mood. After all, you can’t enjoy your drink when you have killed the ‘taste’ with the smoke and the nicotine.
Eighteen years into the profession of tasting vodka, Raittinen, always had a keen interest in exploring tastes of different alcohols. So, is tasting an inborn talent? “Normal tasting skills are good enough, you really don’t have to have an amazing nose. It’s all about practice and curiosity,” says the master taster of Finlandia Vodka, adding, “But I probably had an inborn interest towards tastes since my parents were in the restaurant industry.”
Liquor vs tea tasting:
Patience to study different tastes is the most important part of both, but liquor tasting has it’s own challenges, feels Raittinen. “Unlike tea, alcohol itself has a very numbing effect on our senses, which sets some challenges,” he says. In both professions, however, smoking is a strict no-no, he says.
pair your vodka right:
Traditionally, neat vodka is enjoyed most with starters, especially fish. “Salted salmon, pickled herring or pickled Baltic herring are most traditional,” recommends Raittinen. You can team up spicy desi dishes such as chicken tikka, tandoori aloo or paneer with pure unflavoured vodkas as they help cleanse the palate and retain the flavours. “Rich flavours such as cranberry or blackcurrant would also work nicely with spiced up Indian dishes,” he says.
DIY vodka cocktails:
If you are feeling too lazy to head out in the rain yet want to indulge in some fun cocktails to beat the monsoon gloom, here are two of Markku Raittinen’s signature recipes that can easily be made at home
1/4 inch herbs: Chives,
Rosemary and Thyme
Few cubes of ice
Put some ice in a cocktail glass. Crush the herbs between your palms and sprinkle it over the ice. Pour the vodka over this, filling the glass up to the rim.
Half of a lime, cut to wedges
3tbsp castor sugar
A bowl full of ice, crushed
In a tumbler or on-the-rocks glass, muddle half of lime cut to wedges with three teaspoons of castor sugar. Add a measure of vodka and then fill the glass with lots of crushed ice. You can even add some fresh berries if you want.