Regarding Tasting Notes…

The depth of flavour in whisky is incredible and is one of the many reasons it’s so much fun to talk about the stuff. In fact, it’s commonplace for whisky writers & bloggers to give extensive lists of Tasting Notes, summing up all the elements they have picked up from the dram in question. That’s all well and good, but too often things get a little out of hand.

Let’s remember that the basic ingredients of malt whisky are always the same… Barley, Yeast and Water. Sometimes there is a Peat Smoke influence and sometimes Colouring has been added but other than that, the flavour profile of a whisky comes from these basic ingredients along with the distillation process and to a large extent, maturation in oak casks. 

Put simply, a tasting note is a familiar smell or taste that you observe while enjoying a dram. A rich, sherry cask matured Speyside may remind you of Christmas Cake for example, or the smell of a heavily peated Islay could remind you of the last time you sat by a campfire.

The thing is though, our sense of smell and taste are 100% unique to ourselves. We smell and taste differently and all 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 pick up the same.

For the writer or reviewer, the tasting notes are convenient. After all, how do you write about food or drink without describing what it actually tastes of? This is fine, but tasting notes have become too important to whisky. Worse than that, writers get kudos for giving really obscure references, or at least they think they do. Notes have become ridiculously specific – it isn’t just a chocolate note, it’s one particular variety of 80% 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 or casual whisky drinkers they often express confusion, dismay and ridicule at this fascination with obscure tasting notes. Many even find it off-putting. That’s not what is about. I’m trying to make this site accessible for new and experienced drinkers alike. I hope to encourage people to take their interests further not to chase them away with long lists of ridiculous notes. In my reviews I list a few things that I noticed, just to give a rough idea of the sort of experience you can expect from the dram. It doesn’t mean you’ll taste exactly the same thing, it’s just a starting 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 offers up a good read for whisky drinkers and long lists of obscure, boring tasting notes are simply not welcome here.


2 thoughts on “Regarding Tasting Notes…

  1. A refreshingly honest and sensible account. I love malt whisky and have enjoyed discovering different malts along the way. I often feel very bemused when I read certain tasting notes and sometimes question my sense of taste and smell when I cannot detect the papaya or old leather or freshly mown hay etc etc.
    Good tasting notes should point the way towards whether a malt is heavily sherried, light and fresh, peaty, oily and so on. After that, it’s the joy of checking it out and making ones own mind up.

    So many great malts out there and so little time. At the moment, Green Spot and Glendronach 18 year old fill me with deep joy.

    Keep up the good work.


    1. Thanks Edd, for taking the time to read and comment.

      My thoughts exactly! Reviewers should encourage people, not put them off and leave them questioning their own palate.

      I love just about everything I’ve tasted from GlenDronach – fantastic malt. I haven’t got to know Green Spot as yet but will get round to it one day.




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