The language of tasting

The language of tasting

Tasting, also known as sensory analysis, calls on four of our five senses: sight, scent, taste and touch, in order to respectively determine the colour, range of the olfactory palette (the nose), flavour (the palate) and of course, the finish of the whisky. Each stage in this objective analysis helps unveil the different aspects of a whisky, in particular the country in which it was produced, the region, its age and also the nature of its maturation. The language used to describe these different steps is both rich and full of imagery. It employs a much more subjective analysis, linked to the experiences and memories of the taster, particularly the olfactory and gustatory memories of their childhood.


What influences the colour of a whisky?

What influences the colour of a whisky? When it comes off the still, the new spirit - the whisky to be - has no colour. The colour of the whisky comes entirely from the cask during maturation. And it varies depending on the type of cask used and the number of years it is aged. The more used the cask, the paler the whisky will be. Conversely, new oak casks and ex-sherry casks tend to give the whisky a stronger colour. Whiskies can vary in colour from very pale to very dark amber. It is rarely uniform. Golden, copper, reddish, bronze or even greenish shimmers can often be seen. Some finishes, such as those carried out in port casks, can also create surprising pink tones.
Contrary to popular belief, the clearness or shine of a whisky is not synonymous with quality. A clear colour that lacks depth is normally the sign of excessive chill filtering. In reality, the colour of a whisky is not an objective measure of quality. This is all the more true as it is possible to influence the colour of a whisky artificially by adding caramel. The texture of a whisky can also be appreciated through visual analysis. To do this, simply look at the legs that form on the sides of the glass when it is turned slightly.

What is meant by the olfactory palette of a whisky?

What is meant by the olfactory palette of a whisky?Discovering the aromas of a whisky is one of the (most fun) aspects of olfactory analysis. Whisky is probably the eau de vie with the widest olfactory palette. There are two main families of aroma, those that result from the different stages of production (malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation) and those that result from maturation. The quality of the whisky’s nose can also be explored by examining the breadth, finesse, richness, complexity, balance and precision of the aromas. Some tasters prefer to add water to their whisky. This method, commonly employed by blenders can help open up the whisky and reveal its aromas. Others prefer to tame their whisky by allowing it to breath in the open air for a moment. In reality, it is all a matter of personal preference.

 

Aromas that result from production

Grains

Beer, biscuit, porridge, brioche, cake, milk, vegetables, yeast, maize, barley, toast, rye...

Fruit/esters

Apricot, citrus fruit, almond, banana, blackcurrant, strawberry, raspberry, exotic fruit, dried fruit, redcurrant, blueberry, nuts, grapefruit, peach, pear, apple, grapes, currants, solvent...

Floral/herbaceous

Heather, eucalyptus, leaves, white flowers, hay, cut hay, geraniums, fresh grass, dried grass, lilacs, mint, lily of the valley, roses

Peat, smoke, marine

Algae, burnt rubber, ash, sea spray, polish, incense, wood fires, tar, disinfectant, iodine, tarmac, tyre, ointment, roots, sulphur, earth

 

Aromas produced during maturation

Wood/spice

Cigar boxes, cinnamon, caramel, wax, clove, cedar, oak, ginger, cork, honey, pine, pepper, liquorice, resin, tobacco, toast, toffee, roasting, old wood...


How do you describe the palate of a whisky?

How do you describe the palate of a whisky?The palate can be broken down into two stages: the initial hit and the middle of the palate. The initial hit corresponds to the first impressions of the whisky’s taste. It makes it possible to explore the texture of the whisky, which presents itself in the following forms: dry whiskies (sharp, lively, full-bodied, firm); oily whiskies (creamy, silky, unctuous, soft, gentle). The main flavours, which are sweet, acidic, salty and bitter, are also revealed in the initial hit. At this stage it can be interesting to compare these flavours with the initial aromatic palette. The middle of the mouth reveals the aromatic breadth, finesse, richness, complexity, balance and precision of the whisky. A one-dimensional whisky confirms the initial hit. If, on the other hand, the palate evolves into other flavours, the whisky is generally classed as complex.

What role does the finish play?

What role does the finish play? The finish represents the grand finale of the tasting. Depending on the intensity, it can be short, medium or long. Retro-olfaction then comes into play. Midway between aroma and taste, this corresponds to the aromatic return from the nose to the mouth. The sensory analysis is finally completed by examination of the empty glass. Once the alcohol has evaporated, the glass gives off the dry essence of the whisky. Young whiskies leave a generally subtle imprint. On the other hand, when a whisky has been subjected to slow oxidation through years of ageing, this dry essence can sometimes be even more intense than the whisky itself. The dry essence can literally transport you to a distillery’s bonded warehouse. Tasting therefore has a touch of the sublime and it’s something of the The Angel’s Share that we find in our glasses. Now the preparation is over, it’s time to move onto the sensory analysis.

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