If you’re new to the world of premium whisky, then here’s a quick translation/explanation for some common whisky terms from Gordon Dundas Glengoyne Whisky Brand Ambassador.
Peat – robust smokiness, from the smouldering peat turf used in some distilleries to “malt”, or dry and flavour the barley. At Glengoyne the barley is naturally air-dried, without peat, for subtlety and delicacy.
Long/Short Finish – refers to the length of time the taste of the whisky lingers in your mouth and what is left of the flavour. After a few seconds, the finish and balance can be described by answers to the following questions: What is left on the palate? Is the palate clean and simple? Is there some complexity? What can be observed after five or ten seconds? Did the whisky have a long or a short finish?
Terpentine/Leather – whisky can reveal many surprising flavours and aromas, be they solvents such as paint or varnish, feinty such as wax, biscuits or tobacco and sulphur such as matches, rubber or boiled cabbage, even drains. Other flavours include: fruity (citrus, orchard, berry, tropical, dried), flowery (Elderflower, orange blossom, rose, violet, perfume, lavender, lilac); Vegetable (peppers, mushrooms, asparagus), grainy (Husk, porridge, barley, rye, linseed, malt, flour), botanical (Juniper, coriander, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, lemongrass, mint); herby; oak; sweet (Corn, vanilla, butterscotch, menthol, caramel, burnt sugar, toffee, molasses). These variations can be subtle or enhanced, depending on the style and character of the whisky.
Aromas – there are many common descriptions of whisky aromas, for example: wood-smoke, tar, iodine, sea-weed, leafy, grassy, leathery, tobacco, beeswax, resin, pine, nutty, cigar-box, honey, vanilla, buttery, sherry, to name but a few. It can be great fun to try out a variety of whiskies and as you become more experienced at tasting, you will be able to deftly identify the variety of aromas across a diverse range of varieties.
Complexity – consider the various flavours and aromas you can identify and this will define the simplicity or complexity of the whisky you are tasting.
Burn – the tingling on the palate from the alcohol content of whiskey, greater in cask strength expressions.
Body – refers to the intensity of the whisky which relates to the alcohol content. Body can be neutral, light, medium, full or pronounced. Consider the intensity of the whisky ‘burn’.
Mouth-feel – can be light or full/rich. The mouth-feel is dependent on a variety of factors such as type of cask and length of the distillation process. A lengthy distillation process in premium Sherry casks for example, would be more likely to result in a full mouth-feel, as with Glengoyne’s 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.