Our journey continues.
Part I of Whisky Uncoded saw us getting on top of the bewildering vocabulary being used in the whisky world. This could easily frustrate any single malt whiskey enthusiast in Singapore and take the fun out of drinking whiskies. The MaltmanSG would like to thank the staff at Tipple and Dram at Ann Siang Road who generously shared their whisky notes, which provided a huge help in deciphering the myriads of complex words. As one purveys shelf after shelf brimming with single malt whiskey bottles in Singapore of different types, shapes and sizes, various questions come to mind. What is the difference between Single malts and Grain Whisky? What is the difference between blended whiskies and blended single malt whiskies? What is the significance of ABV? Why does life have to become difficult in choosing between cask strength or non-cask strength? Does my life changes in making decisions between non chilled and chill filtered whisky?
Let’s now look past the label and for what we’re really here for: the taste. With so many varieties, it can be overwhelming to find the perfect whisky. Enter: the types of whisky flavours and a crash course on whisky tasting in Singapore.
Before we discuss flavours, let’s talk tasting. The premises are simple: take a small measure of whisky. Look at the colour. Bring the whisky to your nose—what aromas do you detect? The MaltmanSG advised to keep your glass stationary as you move your head sideways so that your left and right nostrils get to work and get you to smell the rich bouquet coming out of the whisky. Which flavour camp do you think it belongs to? What does it remind you of? Then, taste. Rather than focusing on the scents you’ve detected, focus on how the whisky behaves in your mouth. What does it feel like texturally? How does the taste change over time? Add a dash of water and repeat.
We can compartmentalise whisky into four main camps: light and floral; fruity and spicy; rich and rounded; full bodied and smoky.
Light and floral whiskies are fresh and delicate. Light on the palate with a slight soft sweetness, touches of sherry with hints of vanilla or other fragrant essence. A noticeable absence of smoke, they often feature notes of chocolates, cookies, licorice, cut grass, lemon grass, green fruits, and blossoms. A pleasant, comforting experience for a first timer. These whiskies are typically from Lowlands and Speyside.
Fruity and spicy whiskies vary in terms of intensity. Rich and complex, these malts often use ripe orchard fruits (peach, apricot, mango) and the vanilla aroma of American oak. The spice is often found on the finish. The fruitiness can be mellow or sharp; the spice can be strong or subtle, making for a versatile yet enjoyable dram. These whiskies are a signature statement from the Highlands.
Rich and rounded whiskies often feature dried fruits (raisins, figs, etc.) and the usage of ex-sherry casks. Deep and slightly dry, they vary from sweet, perfumery, to meaty and make for a fantastic drink after dinner. While these whiskies could be from any region but typically the Speyside, Islands and Highlands whiskies dominate.
Smoky and peaty whiskies are a celebration of unexpectedly delicious qualities: peppery, peat smoke, tar, burning heather, seaweed, salt spray. Slightly oily in texture with a medicinal tinge, sometimes even herbal, they must be balanced with some nutiness, oakiness and sweetness. Great for late in the evening or for the bold as a morning wake-up. These could be whiskies either for Islay or Campbeltown.
You know the basics, but we haven’t talked about a very important aspect of the flavour: the cask and the finish.
The cask maturation of a whisky is one of the most important factors in defining the taste of a malt. Typically, the whisky is matured in a cask of a particular type and often spends time in maturing in different cask types. Hence it now uncommon for whiskies to mature only in oak or sherry casks or if the master blender becomes adventurous to experiment, then he or she will let the whisky mature in a combination of cask types. Both the length of time, the whisky is matured for and the type of cask the whisky is matured in are crucial factors in deciding the flavor and taste profiles.
Some of the types of finishes and the flavours they lend are: wood (spice, vanilla, sweet oak); wine (flavours vary according to wine); port (berry fruits; sultana; currant); sherry (dates, walnut, sultana); madeira (sweet fruits, spice, fig); and rum (vanilla, tropical fruits).
The casks, which are used to mature whisky could range from 50 litres quarter casks to 200 litres American Standard barrels to 250 litres Hogshead to 500 litres Butt /Puncheon Casks to 650 litres Madeira casks. The more compact or smaller the cask, the more is the influence on the wood on the flavors as the whiskeys get a longer time to be in contact with the wood. The natural oils present in the wood are drawn out by the whiskies during the maturation and then the type of wood American Oak- European Oak and Japanese Oak give an added amount of colour and flavor to the whisky profile ranging from caramel, sherries, dried fruits to almonds, hazelnuts , vanilla , fresh fruits to butter scotch , cloves and the list goes on on and on
And there we have it! Operation Whisky Uncoded complete.