We’re totally getting into the Christmas season around here. The weekend after Thanksgiving, we started playing music, got out the decorations, put up the lights, and by Sunday I was very eager to set up our Christmas tree. So, for a double dose of holiday cheer, we decided to go gin-cutting and do a Christmas tree tasting in the same day. Wait a second…

Oh yeah, first we searched for and chopped down our perfect Christmas trees, then we had a blind tasting of several gins. Cause, you know. Gin kind of tastes like a pine tree? Get it? I thought it was pretty clever combination of events.

tree search, mt baker national forest | gin tasting and tree cutting | a couple of amateurs

We set out with our friends Brad and McKenzie to the Mount Baker National Forest, where you can get a $10 permit to cut down whatever tree you want, as long as it’s within size limits, nearly impossible to find, and pretty scraggly looking. You may or may not have to drive up treacherous icy mountain roads and climb up a couple hundred vertical feet (can you find Brad in the picture above?) to obtain one.

tree hunt, mt baker national forest | a couple of amateurs

happy puppy | tree cutting and gin tasting | a couple of amateurs

found a winner | tree cutting and gin tasting | a couple of amateurs

I don’t mean to sound so Grinchy… it wasn’t all bad. It was a perfect sunny day, and we took great Christmas card pictures.

Well at least we got some Christmas card pictures | gin tasting and tree cutting | a couple of amateurs

And two of the couples did go home with Christmas trees. The other couple (ahem, that’s Chris and I) stopped at our local tree lot on the way home and paid way too much for the convenience of a full, healthy, perfectly sized, pre-cut tree.

tree lot: when you've given up

Alright now onto the fun part. Or at least the easy part. The gin tasting.

blind gin tasting | holiday parties | a couple of amateurs

Chels wasn’t participating in the tasting, so she played the ever-so-crucial role of gin tracker and glass filler.

gin tasting | holiday parties | a couple of amateurs

In case you’d like to know our thoughts, I’ll share some of our notes and reviews with you. But this certainly isn’t meant to be a post on which gin is the best. For one thing, we only tasted five. And it’s definitely a personal preference thing. (Although if you think you like Tanqueray I’m gonna suggest you re-evaluate.) I’m gonna go in order of my own preference, starting with the least favorite, and I’ll just share some of the random phrases written on our rubric sheets.

tanqueray | gin tasting | a couple of amateursTanqueray

Nothing special. Too strong tasting. (I literally wrote “painful” on my note sheet.)

tanqueray rangpur | gin tasting |a couple of amateursTanqueray Rangpur

Cheap alcohol smell; Sweet; Fennel, light juniper taste; Slight burn.

Whyte Laydie | gin tasting | a couple of amateursWhyte Laydie

Strong botanical nose; Vegetal taste; Bitter aftertaste; Floral; Some heat.

St. Augustine | gin tasting | a couple of amateursSt. Augustine

Juniper, lavender, coriander; Floral; Grains of paradise; Strong taste but not biting; Thumbs up.

uncle val's | gin tasting | a couple of amateursUncle Val’s

Citrus nose; Lemon balm and orange blossom; Almost no juniper taste; Very sippable. (This and St. Augustine were definitely the favorites of the group.)

gin tasting | holiday parties | a couple of amateurs

What we learned about hosting a blind spirit tasting:

  • Pick something like gin or whiskey, that actually has something interesting going on. In other words, don’t have a vodka tasting. Yuck. Gin is a great one, because there really are notable differences from brand to brand. I was actually very surprised by how different they were.
  • On that note, get a varied selection. There are varieties with geographical or historical protections on what ingredients or processes can be used, but there are also some less strict types. So don’t buy 5 different bottles of London dry gins. Read this article for more guidance on styles. (And then impress everyone with your awesome gin knowledge during the tasting!)
  • Decide what your angle is. Are we trying to pick the best gin, with each guest bringing one and vying to win some prize? Are we trying to guess which one is which? Just learning about different styles? We ranked and also tried to guess which was which, and I found it as fun to be wrong as it was to be right. Fun surprises. But it’s kind of disappointing when your two favorites are the two most expensive. ?
  • It’s really helpful to have someone who’s not tasting help keep track of which gin is which and which glass belongs to whom. Then it can truly be a blind tasting. With wine I guess you could use paper bags, but look at the tops of all those gin bottles. Dead giveaways.
  • Don’t put too many brands on the list. Yes, you want a varied selection, but you don’t want to drink multiple shots of gin. You’ll be able to sufficiently imbibe with just a handful of tiny tasters.
  • Let people personalize their tastings. Maybe somebody wants an ice cube in their glass, or wants to mix each spirit with a bit of tonic or soda. If you’re hosting, have these options available.
  • Do this after a meal. Maybe a carb-heavy, absorbent would be best. You could also serve snacks while tasting, but be careful not to taint any palettes.

christmas tree cutting and gin tasting | holiday events | a couple of amateurs

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