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" I'm not tasting all those flavours! 25 ways to describe a dram

Once you begin tasting whisky, you will notice a variety of flavours and mouth feels. However, many beginners do not have the whisky vocabulary necessary to describe the tastes that they encounter as they taste different whiskies. Here are a few descriptors that will help you explain what you taste.

Dignified vs. Youthful. This distinction is difficult to describe, but it is easy to tell the difference. A youthful whisky tends to be vibrant, light, but not altogether integrated—much like a beautiful teenaged girl. A dignified whisky has an irresistible and seamless blend of flavours that are clear and easy to distinguish.

Soft vs. Firm. Again, this can be difficult to explain in words, but you will be able to tell the difference.

Dry vs. Sweet. A dry whisky can actually make your mouth feel dry. It is astringent without any sweetness. A sweet whisky, on the other hand, has a sweet taste and a very wet feeling.

Big vs. Subtle. A ‘big’ whisky dominates your mouth. The tastes and flavours are impossible to miss. On the other hand, a subtle whisky has an I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it quality.

Austere vs. Rich. An austere whisky is simple and straightforward; “what you see is what you get” kind of drink. A rich whisky, on the other hand, will have multiple layers and a complex presence. Rich whiskies often have thicker mouth feels as well, but this is not always the case.

These ten terms will make it easy to describe the basic qualities of your whisky, but there may be other tastes that are more specific. Consider the following, rather self-explanatory verbs when you are searching for a perfect descriptive term.

  • Cereal, Grassy, Herbal, Malty
  • Creamy, Harsh, Mouth coating, Hot, Cleansing , Bold, Spicy, Leathery, Winey, Silky, Crisp, Chunky
  • Dark, Amber, Stained, non-chill filtrated
  • Nutty, Oaky, Fruity, Salty, Smokey, Peaty, Peppery, Orane/citrus, Pear, Iodine, Woody, Toffee

These eighteen words are great for pinpointing a particular taste, but there are other terms that describe the character of the whisky more than the individual tastes. If you are having a hard time detailing exactly what quality of a whisky you are noticing, consider the following:

  • Balanced: This means that the flavours blend well, with none of them overwhelming the mix. Balance is usually a positive aspect in a whisky.
  • Estery: Chemically, an ester is a compound that has a fruity, flowery taste and smell.
  • Ethanolic or Spirited: Ethanol is the alcohol in whisky. A heavy alcoholic taste or smell can be called either of these terms.
  • Phenolic: To go back to chemistry, a phenol is a compound that has a tarry, thick, heavy aspect. This term describes a taste or scent that is tarry and heavy.
  • Warm or hot. Some whiskies will actually make your mouth feel warmer, as though the liquid were warmed before you drank it. These terms are great for describing this phenomenon.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list, use it as a preliminary guide to start describing the characteristics of a whisky that you taste. These flavours and characteristics are those most often found in whiskies and the easiest to identify from simple drinking.

What comes to mind:One  recentacquintance of mine while sitting up at the bar stated boorishly "drinking that  peated whisky is like  licking an ashtray" He then proceeded to have a glass of  corn whisky mixed with Coca-cola and slamming it back in one gulp;remarking "this is the only way to drink whisky " !!!! I guess there is one critic  in every bar, pass down the chips & dip

Robbie McQueen


Average: 5 (3 votes)


Developing the palate is important too.  The more you taste and experience you gain, the more you will be able to discern.