A guide to whisky flavours

by Paramount Digital
Selection of whisky flavours
Want to really appreciate the taste of your dram?
Whisky flavours can be complex and they vary greatly from whisky to whisky. To know what tastes and aromas to look out for, it helps to do your research and be armed with a little knowledge.
Here at Whisky Tasting Company, this is our area of expertise. We have many years of experience, in both supplying and tasting single malts and grains. And to help you separate the floral and elegant drams from the rich and spicy liquors, here we’ve created a simple whisky flavour guide.
Why not invest in one of our sets today and start to taste whisky like a pro?

What gives whisky its flavour?

When it comes to the flavour of a particular whisky, virtually every stage in the production process has a role to play and many factors will influence the final product. These include:
  • the nature and location of the distillery
  • the craft and skill of the distillers
  • whether the distillery uses peat to dry the barley
  • the duration of the liquid’s fermentation
  • the size of the stills used
  • the number of times the liquid has been distilled
  • whether the liquid was matured in a European or American oak cask
  • whether the cask previously held another liquid or was toasted for reuse
Essentially, this is why there are so many different flavours and aromas available to choose from. There are so many variables and each combination leads to a completely unique product.

The whisky flavour wheel

To help make sense of the many whisky flavours, in 1979, the Scotch Whisky Research Institute created the first-ever whisky flavour wheel. This was later developed by Charles MacLean – a British Writer who specialised in Scotch whisky – and has now become the industry standard.
The wheel is a tool that allows you to evaluate the taste of whisky, by breaking the flavours down into a series of categories and subcategories. These categories provide a common language, that can be used by whisky amateurs and connoisseurs alike when creating tasting notes. And they’re a great starting point for discussion, particularly when participating in a whisky tasting session with others.
MacLean’s original whisky flavour wheel includes eight main categories, including peaty, floral, fruity, cereal, winey, woody, sulphury and feinty. However, this has been adapted countless times over the years and most single malts and grains now fall into one of five key flavour categories.
  1. Fruity
Perceptions of fruity flavours differ around the world. Therefore, whiskies in this category can include those with citrus and tropical flavours (e.g. grapefruit, lime, mango, banana), orchard fruit flavours (e.g. apples and pears) and dried fruits such as raisins, dates, figs and apricots. 
  1. Floral
Whiskies with a floral flavour are soft, delicate and light. They’re typically very fragrant and will often have a subtle green or leafy aroma – reminiscent of freshly cut grass or blossoming flowers. Others can be hay-like and offer distinctive notes of fresh hay, meadows and herbs.
  1. Spicy
Spicy whisky flavours tend to fall into two areas. Some include sweet, aromatic and warming spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Whilst others are fiery, with notes of chilli and jalapeño peppers.
  1. Sweet
Full-bodied and indulgent. Sweet whiskies most commonly have a classic confectionary or vanilla flavour, such as honey, chocolate, cream or marshmallow. However, some are smooth and caramelised – coating the tongue with flavours of toffee, golden syrup and fudge.
  1. Smoky
If you’re new to the world of whisky, different smoky flavours can often taste the same. But there are subtle differences. Whilst some are fresh and woody, others are rich and earthly – offering hints of peat, cigars and dark roast coffee  – and the more you try the more these subtleties will become apparent.

Whisky tasting set with a range of whisky flavours

Discover your favourite whisky flavour today

Learning about whisky flavours and aromas can certainly help to enhance your tasting experience. But taste is subjective. And if you’d like to discover your favourite, the best option is to sample a few different ones – from each different flavour category – and see which you like the most.
All of our whisky tasting sets contain a selection of the key flavours outlined above. Each box features five 30ml miniatures – which is just enough to sample the delightful taste of each, without the expense of buying a full bottle. What’s more, they come with a series of educational tasting cars – to bolster your knowledge further – as well as a unique whisky tasting mat to record any notes.
So, why not treat yourself?
Browse our full online collection today, place your order, and get to grips with whisky flavours once and for all. And if you have any questions, remember, you’re always welcome to get in touch. As we said, whisky flavours are our forte and we’re happy to help in any way that we can. Just give us a call on 01743 247220 or send an online message  and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.