Freakin’ Frog, a little beer and whisky bar on the border of the UNLV campus in Las Vegas, is probably the last place you’d expect for a game-changing discovery. While this bar appears to cater to the college crowd, it actually has one of the best curated selection of beers we’ve seen, and upstairs “the attic” has one of the most extensive collections of whisky in America. Freakin Frog may seem like an unlikely setting for a revolution, but the owner, Adam Carmer, seems even less likely as a revolutionary. Carmer spends as much time behind a podium as a professor at UNLV as he does behind the bar. In addition to being a restauranteur and professor, Carmer has worked as a Master Chef and Sommelier with Steven Wynn as Director of Restaurants at Mirage Hotel & Casino.
Behind the bar at Freakin Frog, Carmer seems like a combination of nutty professor and David Copperfield. Extremely passionate about what he does, Carmer walks me through a collection of over 800 different whiskys, introducing many of them like old friends. Adam Carmer didn’t set out to revolutionize the way we taste spirits – it was his love and passion for spirits that led him there.
It was while running Freakin Frog that Carmer stumbled upon an entirely new way of tasting and evaluating spirits. Think of this as the spirit equivalent of the apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head. One night, while drinking some whisky and lost in tasting it, Carmer’s wife interrupted him. Instead of swallowing his sip, he held it in his mouth while he listened attentively to what his wife had to say. It was after this that he realized the effect it had on his experience of the spirit.
After a great deal of research on how the olfactory system works and why things smelled and tasted so different after this experience, Carmer set out to develop a tasting method that would reflect it. The result of this is the CSTEM (Carmer Spirits Tasting Enhancement Method). While it may sound simple and its execution is fairly easy, it represents nothing short of a revolution in the way we taste and experience spirits.
To date, there has been only one generally accepted way of smelling and tasting spirits. The basic mechanics are that you smell a spirit and then taste it. A few variations include holding the glass a fair distance under your nose as to not be overwhelmed by the alcohol, or diluting the alcohol with water. That’s how it’s done and no one has really challenged this methodology until now.
The CSTEM is based on the realization that by acclimatizing the olfactory system to the spirit you are drinking, you are better able to access the flavors and aromas it has. Fundamentally this is done by bringing a small sip of spirit into your mouth, holding it there for a full twelve count, and then slowly drawing it into your throat over a series of small sips. This is all done before ever sticking your nose in a glass, and all done with your mouth closed. The process is deceptively easy but the result is nothing short of magical. Through this method, the entire olfactory system gets calibrated to the spirit you are drinking and enables you to access some of the elements that you simply can’t smell or taste otherwise.
This process also doesn’t require you to be some sort of super taster or super smeller, and it removes many of the barriers that people have to be able to access and identify the elements in what they are drinking.
Here’s a step by step run down of the CSTEM (Carmer Spirits Tasting Enhancement Method):
- Pour 1/2 an ounce of whatever you want to taste in a glass. Do not smell the spirit or the glass.
- Take a very small sip (about 1/4 of what you poured or 1/8th of an ounce). Keep that sip in the front of your mouth with your mouth closed. Don’t trap the sip on your tongue, let it naturally run off your tongue to the front of your mouth, gums, under the tongue, etc. Do not swish or agitate the sip.
- Do a slow twelve count while letting the spirit sit in your mouth. Only breath through your nose while you do this, and do not open your mouth.
- After twelve seconds, your sip should now have combined with a fair amount of saliva and you should be able to draw it back in a series of 4-5 small swallows.
- Once you’ve done your swallows, exhale and breathe normally.
Next comes the magic:
- Pick up your glass and smell the spirit. There should be no alcohol burn and you should be able to clearly smell the aromas in the glass.
- Take another sip of the spirit and swallow it naturally. You’ll notice a significant change in the taste of the spirit.
Here’s Adam Carmer walking through the tasting process:
Adam Carmer has an upcoming book on the CSTEM and offers tastings at The Attic at Freakin Frog which can be scheduled at whiskyattic.com.