The six building blocks of whisky

WTO Whisky Building Blocks

There are many contributing factors influencing the flavours of your favourite whisky which include, but are not limited to: where it was made, the grain used to make it, as well as the type of oak it was aged in and the amount of time spent resting in those barrels.

Discover the six key building blocks of a whisky, and decide what elements appeal to you and in what proportion. You might just discover a whisky that you might not have previously thought to taste.

  1. Aroma
    The aroma of any whisky is of critical importance as it tells a lot about the whisky. It tells you about its base ingredients, be it single malt or single grain or perhaps a combination of malts and grains. It can also tell you about how it was aged. Many grains have their own character. Rye, for instance, often imparts a peppery spiciness, and a mild sweet note. Malted barley can range from delicate cereal notes to intense smoky notes; especially when dried with smoked peat. Wood also plays a big factor in the aroma. Perhaps it was aged for minimum amount of time and hasn’t picked up many nuances from the wood, or perhaps it was aged in special casks that have imparted their own character to the whisky. For example, sherry casks may add dried fruit notes while new American White Oak barrels might provide smoky, toasty, vanilla and coconut-like aromas.  

  2. Peat
    What is peat? In essence, peat is a type of wet earth created by the decomposition of plant material including grass and moss in a particularly wet environment. The influence of peat is most often associated with Single Malt Scotch although a couple of notable Irish distilleries also use peated malt to add character and depth to their whiskies. Historically, many distilleries burned the peat, found on their property, to dry their malted barley. This drying process imparts a natural smokiness to the malt and consequently the final aroma and flavour of the whisky.  

  3. Smoke
    Whiskies made from peated malt inherently deliver a smoky flavour, but the presence of a smoky flavour in a whisky is not necessarily a result of peat. Many whiskies acquire a smoky character as a result of the phenolic compounds acquired from oak barrels. While Sherry barrels often impart dried fruit notes, others such as Bourbon casks or Virgin American White Oak may provide sweet and smoky aromas. If you like Bourbon, you might discover you also like a Scotch whisky aged in Virgin American Oak casks.  

  4. Taste
    A number of contributing factors determine a whisky’s body and textural richness. The ratio of alcohol to water is of utmost importance. Cask strength whiskies tend to be amongst the richest of all spirits, and malted barley and rye tend to create whiskies with more natural weight than corn-based whiskies.  

  5. Sweetness
    While few whiskies are in fact sweet, many do a have a perceptible sweetness that may be attributed to grain – as is the case of many corn rich Bourbon’s and Canadian whiskies. Or, their underlying impression of sweetness may be linked to place – such as the soft, malty sweetness of a Speyside or Lowland Scotch. If you like Canadian Whisky, maybe you’d venture to a Blended Scotch Whisky aged in ex-Bourbon casks or American White Oak barrels. Others may have a more overtly sweet perception as a result of the type of oak they were aged in. For example, those aged in new American white oak barrels often exude a sweet smelling vanilla or coconut aroma.

  6. The Finish
    The finish of a whisky refers to the length of time that character of the spirit lingers on the palate. The taste of a great whisky is seemingly endless, as it lingers on the palate for minutes. Those with the shortest finish are often young whiskies. The flavour of some of the oldest and most complex whiskies exude flavours that seemingly last forever.

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