Tonight, I made a small batch of Amer DeHainaut with honey instead of caramelized sugar. (The honey is from Warm Colors Apiary in Deerfield, which is currently on tap at Follow the Honey in Harvard Square.) There was a certain taste, maybe just a feeling, in the Bigallet China China that I thought might be approximated by this substitution. I think it tastes closer to China China than my previous attempts. My other test subject seems to disagree. Regardless of whether it is a better clone, we both agree that it is better as a standalone product.
I made an interesting observation when discussing this experiment. If you will recall, in tasting the wood aged vermouth, I found it difficult not to separate the wood flavor from the rest of the vermouth. I suggested that as a woodworker I might be too familiar with specific wood flavors to be able to let them merge with the other vermouth flavors. Tonight, I observed a very similar reaction in my test subject, who happens to be a honey expert. Her critique focused mostly on the honey itself. I don't think our discussion would have been much different if we had just tasted the honey on its own (in fact, we did, and it wasn't.) This is exactly how I felt when I first tasted the vermouth. I found myself only critiquing the wood flavor, rather than the vermouth which had wood as one component of its flavor. I felt that I could have licked a board and then taken a sip of vermouth, and I would have wound up with the same conclusions. Everyone else tasted the whole, while I only got the parts. Fortunately, once I stopped "tasting" the vermouth, and started drinking it, the effect dimished.
It is starting to sound like my conclusion will be that the opinions of an expert should be ignored. That, of course, would be nonsense. However, I think it definitely could be true that the first impression of an expert might not be entirely relevant to the general public. That might also be nonsense. I guess my possibly nonsense conclusion is that expertise first leads to bias, which can then be toned down into unique perspective.