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5-Minute Classroom: Understanding whisky tasting notes

Nearly all of the flavour found in whisky depends on where it’s made, how it’s aged and what grain it’s made from. Understand whisky tasting notes to find a dram you’ll love

Whisky tasting notes: Smoky

Peaty whiskies get their smoke and menthol flavours from the peat fires that are used to dry the malted barley before it gets distilled and made into spirit. At the Ardbeg distillery in Islay, Scotland, a rugged landscape of peat bogs provides the characterful and intense smoky flavours, the smokiest of which are Ardbeg Wee Beastie and Ardbeg Corryvreckan. Ardbeg whiskies are also known for their salty iodine flavours, which come from the distillery’s position overlooking the sea.

Whisky tasting notes: Fruity

When it comes to fruity whisky notes, look for tropical (banana, mango) orchard (apple, pear), citrus (orange, lemon and lime) or dried (candied, currants) tasting notes on the label. Some distilleries use barrels previously used to age wine, which impart complex flavours of dried fruit and nuts. Whistlepig Old World Cask Finish is aged in a combination of port, sauternes and madeira casks, which give this rye whisky fruity tasting notes of apricots, plums, raisins, dates and honey.

Whisky tasting notes: Spicy

Vanilla, wood and warm spice are flavours normally associated with the barrel in which a whisky is aged. If a barrel is small and has only been used once or twice, it will impart more oaky flavours. Similarly, if the wood is American oak or has been heavily charred it will add notes of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and other warm spices. Whistlepig 10 Year Old Small Batch Rye is aged in new American oak and has pronounced aromas of allspice, orange peel, anise, oak, char and caramel. Rye whisky is known to be spicier than whisky made from barley, and so this too can be a contributing factor.

Whisky tasting notes: Sweet

Caramel, honey, toffee, fudge and chocolate are typical flavours associated with malted grain. To balance the strong smoky flavours of Ardbeg 10 Years Old, Ardbeg’s distillery manager allowed the natural sweetness of the malt to shine through with notes of toffee, buttermilk and dark chocolate. Honey and toffee notes are a hallmark of Glenmorangie The Original, while Glenmorangie Lasanta has matured for 12 years to become a smoother, sweeter whisky than is traditional in the Highlands, with notes of honeycomb, caramel, butterscotch and toffee.