May 3, 2010

Cat piss 'n' Mushrooms

There are some awesome flavor descriptors out there that don't seem appetizing at first glance.

Where do those crazy, florid descriptions of food and drink come from? One nice theory I've heard is that the critics who write these allow their minds to clear and wander as they taste. Smell and taste, as you may have heard, are the sensory inputs most linked with memories. So the stuff they come up with ("like walking through a forest with a cool fall breeze...") is actually what memories their minds have linked to the chemical compounds in what they are tasting. Vague recollections of circumstances, people, and so on can make a big impact on how we perceive taste. However, sometimes the best way to describe a flavor is not always the most appetizing.

Take, for example, cat piss. This one is occasionally used as a derogatory descriptor by Europeans for American-style IPAs. It is also, however, a recognized and sometimes desired flavor in Sauvignon Blanc. Due to commercial considerations, however, this has often been referred to as "catty" by sommeliers and wine critics. Linked with "catty" is "sweaty" or "armpit", which is used to describe slightly musky flavors with, to my nose, hints of citrus. As an aside, I had a cat named Mead that lodged these scents firmly in my memory.

A classic descriptor in beer is "sweaty horsehair", "horse blanket", or "barnyard". I usually describe this flavor as "funky" or "butt-funky" in some circumstances. It is most often associated with certain strains of Brettanomyces. I personally love this taste, though some are very put off by it. "Mushroom" is an awesome flavor in my book, which is sometimes disguised by the word "earthy". Dirt-like or decaying would be some less appetizing words. One flavor I often find in dark, old Brett beers is soy sauce, which provides a surprisingly savory note. Completely awesome, though drinking soy sauce is not appetizing to most people.

Another good wine flavor is "petrol", which is found in very fine and aged Riesling. There has actually been some controversy over this word, as some commercially-minded individuals have sought to remove mention of this flavor in conjunction with the wine. In the US it is often referred to as "diesel". I have yet to taste this one, but I am familiar with and do not object to the "plastic" or "band-aid" that is occasionally produced by phenolic German wheat beers. What are some of the crazy things you've discovered lurking in your drink?

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