Whisky is a complex drink.
What’s even more complicated is some of the terminology used to describe it!
Do you know your Scotch from your Bourbon? Your malts from your grains? Can you distinguish a thin whisky from a robust blend?
No? Well, don’t worry.
Enjoying whisky to the full starts by understanding more about it – and the best place to begin is by getting your head around some of the lingo.
To help, our team at Whisky Tasting Company have pulled together a quick reference guide to whisky tasting terms, so the next time you’re asked, ‘What does whisky taste like?’ you’ll know exactly what to say.
Whisky tasting terms
A term we hope will never be associated with any of the whiskies we offer, ‘bland’ denotes a drink that lacks flavour and is…dare we say…a little boring.
A whisky made from a combination of whiskies from different distilleries.
‘Full-bodied’, ‘lacking body’, and ‘medium-bodied’ are all phrases you may hear used for whisky tasting to describe the amount of character.
Occasionally, there can be a hint of a rogue flavour, but if a whisky is referred to as ‘clean’ then there are no off notes to spoil the taste.
A ‘dry’ whisky is usually quite bitter or acidic, with an overriding astringent taste.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you’ll need to build up your biceps before sampling a ‘heavy’ whisky – it actually refers to an intense flavour and powerful aroma.
If your palate can detect a heavy whisky, then you’ll also be able to recognise the opposite – a ‘light’ whisky! Whilst still delivering a good scent and flavour, it is much more delicate on the nose and palate.
Rather than the burn that can often be associated with an alcoholic spirit, a ‘mellow’ whisky provides a gentler warming sensation.
With a ‘peaty’ whisky, you’ll detect smoky undertones to the flavour.
A taste ‘profile’ is the overarching term used when discussing the flavours of whisky, e.g. its flavour profile.
Generally, this is used to talk about the intensity of the flavour, and is often used to describe whiskies that are sweet and aromatic.
Just as teachers love the term ‘a good all-rounder’, a ‘round’ whisky is a blend that offers a good balance of flavour against the aroma.
This is a whisky that packs a powerful punch, with plenty of character, flavour, and an intense scent.
Ever had a sip of whisky that’s taken your breath away? This is the sensation of a ‘sharp’ whisky, which often creates a prickly sensation in your nose and mouth.
Here the pungency and hit of alcohol is softened – no sharp intake of breath sipping on a ‘soft’ whisky.
Not a whisky that’s likely to be top of your list, ‘thin’ describes a watery whisky that lacks any real intensity of flavour or smell.
Other whisky words worth knowing
A whisky that heralds from the USA, usually Kentucky, and made primarily from corn.
A term often used among whiskey drinkers, ‘a wee dram’ is a Scottish term for a small drink of whisky.
On the rocks
For those James Bond moments, requesting a whisky ‘on the rocks’ is a shot of whisky served over ice.
No ice, no drop of water, and certainly no mixer, ‘neat’ whisky it just that – whisky.
A classic whisky, predominantly made with barley. To be officially classed as a Scotch, the whisky must be distilled, aged for at least 3 years, and bottled in Scotland.
Learn more about how Scotch differs from a Bourbon.
In simple terms, a single malt denotes a whisky that comes from a single distillery and is made from malted barley – but there is slightly more to it than that. For the full ins and out of what makes a single malt, check out our blog ‘What does single malt mean?’
Understanding whisky flavours
Now you’ve got the vocab to describe what you’re tasting, you may want to know about the specifics of the flavours you’re experiencing.
Whiskies typically fall into one of 5 key categories – fruity, floral, spicy, sweet, or smoky.
For more on the differences between these flavour distinctions, check out our ‘Guide to whisky flavours’.
Become a whisky connoisseur
If you’re looking for a great introduction to whisky tasting, you’re in the right place.
Each bottle arrives with its own unique tasting card, which provides interesting and educational facts including flavours to look out for.
A whisky tasting mat is also included, providing the perfect place to position your drink while you sip and jot down your own whisky tasting notes (and a record of your favourites!).
Make sure this useful glossary is also to hand, and you’ll be a whisky whizz in no time – or at least have fun learning!
Don’t forget, if there’s anything you’re not clear about, or if you would like more advice on any of the sets for sale in our store, you’re always welcome to get in touch – we’d love to help!