Friday, September 09, 2011

Whiskey Flavor Profiles

Whenever I teach a class on whiskey, it's always a challenge helping the students to identify the distinct flavor components that make up each spirit's unique character. Flavor wheels and other visual aids are a good tool, but they usually only identify the myriad elements that may be tasted in any given whiskey, leaving the student unsure of what they actually are tasting.

I recently came across the StillSpirits Whisky Profile Kit intended to help home distillers adjust the flavor profile of their whiskey by adding individual essences in controlled amounts. I've found that this kit is also an invaluable tool for conducting whiskey tastings, as it allows students to experience each element in a concentrated, isolated manner that helps build sense memory.

In addition, the kit includes recipes for dosing home-distilled spirits in order to achieve standard whiskey flavor profiles, and this actually turned out to be as valuable as the kit itself. By converting the recipes into percentages and graphing the amounts of each essence called for, I was able to create the following visual representations of the major whiskey category flavor characteristics:

Lowland Scotch

Highland Scotch

Speyside Scotch

Islay Scotch

Scotch Regional Comparison

Irish Whiskey


The graphs also include glycerine which, though not a flavor component, contributes to the different mouthfeel of each spirit. While the percentages will vary (and reflect the amount of essence and not the actual flavor element), the relative proportions of each component are very instructive. Now when a student wonders if they're tasting peat or not, they can look at the corresponding graph to see what's actually in the glass instead of being faced with the ubiquitous and frustrating "everybody tastes different things" line. I highly recommend buying this kit for your next whiskey tasting and using the above graphs to help better train your palate.

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