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The eight flavour profiles to look out for in a dram as you travel The Malt Whisky Trail

Posted on 17th September 2020

Here at The Malt Whisky Trail, we’re proud to welcome visitors from all corners of the globe.  Some are whisky aficionados, and some are new on their journey to appreciating single malt whisky.  Whichever category you fall in to, read on to find out about how to taste whisky and the eight flavour profiles you can identify in the drams you’ll savour on The Malt Whisky Trail. 

How to serve your whisky

Before we get to the flavour profiles, make sure you’re giving the whisky the best chance to release its secrets to you by choosing the right glass and serving it in the most optimum way.

If you have one, try tasting your whisky in a glass that’s got a rounder bowl shaped bottom and a narrower rim, like a tulip or Glencairn glass. These allow you to swirl the whisky around to open up the scents, and channel the aroma towards your nose encouraging you to sniff and sip the whisky, rather than simply slurping it down.

Serve your whisky room temperature. Too cold and you’ll miss the full flavour. You can even warm the glass with your hand to release the volatile oils and other aromas. Drink your whisky neat, or add a splash of water to release additional aspects of the bouquet and taste.

Swirl your whisky around your glass, and hold it to the light. The colour should give you some clues about its provenance, such as how old it is or what type of cask it’s been matured in (more below). 

And now, sniff and drink! Take your time to explore the nose, and let the whisky linger on your tongue.

The flavour profiles to look out for

It’s important to note that everyone has a different sense of smell, so people will react differently to whisky aromas. Luckily, there have been numerous whisky tasting wheels created to provide accessible tasting notes. We’re taking Whisky Magazine’s Flavour Wheel as inspiration for the guide below. So, what flavours should you look for as you taste your way round The Malt Whisky Trail?

The first six aromas to look out for will come from the fermentation and distillation processes and the final two from maturation. The eight flavours are:

  1. Cereal:  These are aromas which come from the malted barley, and are modified by the fermentation and distillation processes.
  2. Fruity:  Also known as esters, these are the sweet, fragrant, fruity, solvent-like scents that arise from the yeast as it converts glucose to ethanol.
  3. Floral:  Floral, or aldehydic, flavours are leafy, grassy or hay-like scents – think Parma Violets.
  4. Peaty:  More commonly associated with Islay malts, peaty, or phenolic, flavours develop during kilning. Peaty smells range from wood smoke to tar.
  5. Feinty:  Feints come in halfway through the spirit run, usually beginning as biscuity or toasted scents, developing into tobacco and honeyed scents. They can be transformed and mellowed by cask maturation.
  6. Sulphury:  The sulphur aromas arise from organosulphur compounds during distillation and maturation.  The copper of the whisky stills plays an important role in removing these aromas, as they can be considered unpleasant.
  7. Woody:  It’s a legal requirement for Scotch whisky to be matured in oak casks, with the most commonly used being the American and European oaks. The age of the whisky can impact on the flavour, and the oak can increase the complexity of the whisky, as well as enhancing flavour, adding colour and developing the roundness of the spirit.
  8. Winey:  It’s common for a cask to previously have been used for wine – such as sherry, port, red wine, Madeira or Marsala. If that’s the case, then the wood will have absorbed wine residues, which are extracted by the spirit and become part of its flavour.  

Now that you’ve learned all about the main eight flavour profiles to look out for on The Malt Whisky Trail, remember to take this with you as you visit the distilleries. Take your time as you taste the whiskies and try to identify some of the flavours above. You might discover that you have a preference, which could influence your dram of choice next time you visit one of our world-famous whisky bars. Enjoy!