There is a depth of flavour in whisky that makes it a lot of fun to talk about and it’s commonplace for whisky writers & bloggers to give extensive lists of notes, describing all the different flavours and sensations they have picked up from a dram. This is all well and good, but too often things get a bit out of hand.
The basic ingredients of malt whisky are always the same… Barley, Yeast and Water. Sometimes the barley is influenced by peat smoke and sometimes colouring is added but other than that, the flavour of a whisky comes from these basic ingredients, the distillation process and from a process of maturation in oak casks.
To put it simply, a tasting note is a familiar smell or flavour that you observe in a dram which can often give a clue as to the backstory of the whisky. A rich, sherry cask matured Speysider may remind you of Christmas Cake for example, or the smell of a heavily peated Islay could be reminiscent of sitting by a campfire.
The thing is, our senses of smell and taste are completely unique. We all smell and taste things differently and each have our own memories and experiences to draw from. If someone tastes chocolate in a dram, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the next person will taste the same.
For a writer and reviewer, tasting notes are convenient. How do you describe flavour without comparing it to something else? This is fine of course, but tasting notes have become too important in whisky. Worse than that, there is a perceived culture of kudos for obscure notes which has become ridiculously specific – it isn’t just chocolate, it’s one variety of dark chocolate, made in a tiny Colombian village by a man named Carlos with a scar on his face and a missing tooth. It is pretentious, self indulgent codswallop that serves no purpose and worst of all? It’s very, very dull to read.
When I speak to new and casual whisky drinkers they often express confusion, dismay and ridicule at this fascination with obscure tasting notes. Many even find it off-putting and that’s the opposite of what WhiskyReviews.net is about. This site exists to encourage people to take their interest in whisky further – not chase them away with long lists of pretentious tasting notes. In my reviews I list a few things that I notice in a dram and hopefully it gives a rough idea of the experience you can expect from it. It doesn’t mean you’ll taste exactly the same thing, it’s little more than a reference point.
Whisky is one of the few things we actually contemplate in depth as we’re sipping it, and that can be fun but there’s a real danger of taking ourselves too seriously. Let us remember to relax and enjoy our whisky and not spend our time trying to one-up each other for obscurity where tasting notes are concerned.
I think it’s reasonable to provide a brief description of the flavour of the dram being reviewed but it is important to me, above all, that WhiskyReviews.net offers a good read for whisky drinkers and very long lists of obscure, boring tasting notes are simply not welcome here.