Advice on Discerning Flavors
New here and to the world of single malts at the age of 49.
Having been a blended scotch drinker, mostly at events and functions, I had occasion to try a single malt at a recent neighborhood gathering as the only other option was wine, which I never cared too much for, until someone brought scotch.
Not paying too much attention, I poured myself some and upon that initial taste, had to see what it was, as it was not like what I had been used to. Without previous exposure to anything but Chivas, Dewars, etc, I of course did not hear of the name on the bottle, Macallan. It was the 12 year. I had several more that evening.
Since then, I realized there was a whole world I wanted to get to know better. I searched for forums and found myself here a lot the last few weeks, reading all I can about single malts and specific reviews.
What intrigues me is discerning all the different flavors of a particular variety.
For the Macallan, for example, which I since bought for myself, I definitely can pick up on the aroma of toffee, caramel, etc, that I have read about. I also get the smoothness. What I am having trouble with is actually tasting all of the different flavors described and smelled.
I should mention that I am having this neat and in the proper glass which tapers toward the top.
Since the initial taste of the Macallan 12, I had a chance to try Balvenie 12 doublewood, which I had read about, at another function. I liked this one very much as well and also found it smooth with some similar attributes.
In an effort to broaden my horizons, I read all the reviews I could (thanks jwise for providing much reading material!) and, with price a factor, decided on Glenmorangie 10. I found it to be somewhat different from the Macallan.
First, upon smelling, it seemed much more floral than sweet. It wasn't quite as smooth as the Balvenie or Macallan (had more burn) and tasted dry, for lack of a better word. Like a dry wine in a way.
Anyway, that's where I'm at. I have been holding the sips in my mouth for varying amounts of time trying to pick up different flavors but find it difficult. I suppose it will come, however, just as the aromas are getting a little better.
I have others I want to try but need to wait in between purchases since this is an expensive hobby! As a result I think I will stay with the younger ones (12 yrs to perhaps 15). On my list from the reading I have done are:
Balvenie 15, Glenmorangie 15 and Nectar, Glenrothes reserve, Macallan 15 oak (would love to try the 18 but just too expensive). It seems, at least at this early stage, I am tending towards the sweeter and perhaps sherried varieties, but can't be sure :confused:
Any thoughts, advice, ideas, etc would be appreciated.
Hi Jeff & Welcome! I'm fairly new here, myself.... :)
Ahh the Mac12. It, too, was my first single malt... Long before I really got into them. Absolutely wonderful, as is the Double Wood. Since then I've found a deep love for the wide varieties available (though I tend to truly savor the smoky Islay Malts).
The Classic Glenmorangie is indeed a huge step away from The Macallan 12. Life-maturation in sherry or bourbon makes a huge difference across the board - & so you're looking for more strickly sherried whiskies, Highland Park is notorious for their strict use of first (and second?) fill sherry casks... Though I can't say the HP12 would be anything quite like The Macallan 12 - as it harbors a much stronger finish among other reasons - but the HP18 (~$100) was the smoothest whisky I've ever had the pleasure to sample.
As far as nosing, tasting, & assessing goes - It's just a skill that develops over time. I have an WSET intermediate level certification, and I found that my previous concepts of aesthetic & tasting were only re-enforced & expanded by my professional training...
You simply ask yourself: "What do you smell, what else do you smell? What about when you smell it again? And Again?" On deeper levels, "What does it remind you of? How does it make you feel? Or, at the core of aesthetic appreciation, "Do you like it? Or not? And Why?!"
Basically the same is applied to each aspect of tasting; Nosing, Palate (or Taste), and Finish.
Palate consists of things like sweetness or dryness (The majority of Scotch - depending on the heavy use of sherry, port, or first-fill bourbon casks - is typically on the drier side), "viscosity" or mouth-feel; Creamy, Watery, or "Oily" (like a Brandy) for example, as well as general flavor descriptors, among others.
Finish, fairly obvious, consists mainly of the flavors that linger in your mouth after you swallow, as well as the length of their linger. Some may also call the actual act of swallowing (the "Smooth or Harsh" factor) part of the finish, as well.
Of course, you don't necessarily literally ask yourself these questions while you're in the process of a tasting... Often things just jump out at you. From there, I find it takes a bit more concentration to really hone in on particulars... I'm certainly still learning myself!
One important thing to assess throughout every stage of a tasting is Intensity. Does the smell jump out of the glass? Does it taste rich & full in your mouth? Do you feel like you're drinking your breath after you swallow?
Another huge thing to factor in is familiarity. Perfect example: Heather. I've never smelled Scottish Heather, or had Heather Honey in my life. But it's a frequent descriptor in reviews. There are loads of other examples, but the moral is: smell stuff & taste stuff. A great idea (which I've yet to do) is to spend some time (and money) in the supermarket smelling exotic & regular fruits, pick up an assortment of nuts & sample them separately or sparingly to isolate flavors. Being familiar with tastes & smells is the number one way to pinpoint those notes that you're looking for in your whisky.... Though I did smell "fresh shower curtain plastic" on a bottle of French wine from 1967 at our Christmas Party, so don't limit yourself! Typical Islay whiskies will have notes that range from smoke & tar to ashtray... I've even heard "band-aid" and all sorts of other descriptors, so just remember: everyone is different & your notes will almost always be a bit different than someone else's tasting notes!
Thanks for the detailed explanation and advice.
I guess it boils down to tasting as many varieties as is feasible to really experience the differences.
With that it sounds like the ability to distinguish particular tastes will come. The aroma seems to be coming along faster.
I'm thinking of ordering a bunch of samples to move this along a bit.
Welcome to the Forum! I am glad to hear that you have enjoyed (or at least gotten something useful out of) my reviews. I write them for myself as much as for others. This is one of the methods I use to discern tastes/flavors/aromas: I write them down. By forcing yourself to encapsulate as much as you can into words, you are practicing the art of evaluating a whisky. The more you think about the whisky in words instead of feeling, the better you will get.
In addition, I do try to smell things, and taste new things, so I can use those tastes and smells in my reviews. I have been tempted just to buy a bunch of fruits (ripe and dried) along with other things just to smell and get to know them. However, I stop myself, as it would be painful to admit to my wife what I was intending to do with all of that! ;)
As for your idea about buying samples, that is EXACTLY what you should do! Don't waste your money on full bottles at first. Find as many miniatures as you can, and then go to some high-end bars to get a taste of some others. Don't sit at a table, but saddle up to the bar and tell the bar-keep you are looking for something 'new.' He'll ask you what you've had, and he might suggest something. In this case, ask for just a taste. He'll probably give you a sip to see if you like it. Don't say 'yes.' That will end your tasting and then you will be expected to buy it! Try to pinpoint the predominate flavor, and say it out loud. He'll probably suggest another that doesn't have that flavor, and offer a sample. Accept it. Repeat this process three or four times and then BUY one (your favorite of those sampled, or if you didn't like any of them, the Mac 12yr.)
Macallan 12: Sherried on the nose, subtle on the palate.
Balvenie 12 doublewood: Sherried on the nose, subtle on the palate (very similar to the Mac 12yr.)
Glenmorangie 10: Citrus. Too dry and young for my tastes.
Balvenie 15: Incredible whisky, full of spice, honey and vanilla notes, and a nice maltiness. This you should try! In fact, this bottle would be worth purchasing, as you will never tire of it.
Glenmorangie 15 and Nectar: Skip the 15yr, but find a bottle of the Sample Pack that includes a bottle of the Glenmorangie Original with all three sample bottles of their "finished" whiskies: Lasanta, Quinta Ruban & Nectar D'Or.
Glenrothes [select] reserve: A very good whisky that has complexity to it. You should train your palate with this one, as you should be able to pick out dried fruits, citrus, vanilla, and spice. It took me a while to get the dried fruits, as they are a bit subtle behind the dry finish. The vintage bottlings are much smoother than the Select Reserve, but it is still very good.
Macallan 15 oak: This will taste like oak. Do you like drinking oak? I don't feel the need to spend $70 on a bottle of oak. Seriously, I would suggest you "trying before you buy" when it comes to this one. Have I tasted it? No. Because I have read too many reviews and listened to too many whisky experts to spend money on something I know I won't like. I have tasted other oaky whiskies, and so I can informatively pass on this one. The 18yr, however, is sherry finished, and is much like the 12yr except smoother. Not worth the money, in my opinion.
Thanks jwise for your feedback and advice. Nice to see I was at least on the right track with "dry" for the Glenmorangie 10. Probably shouldn't have plunged right in on the bottle, but at least it's one of the lower priced ones.
I did read your review of the Aberlours and added the 12 and 18 it to my list :)
I have been trying to find liquor stores with miniatures or sampler packs and, while there's no shortage of stores with a wide selection of SM bottles, none have minis. Sounds like I will have to order from Masters of Malt and deliver to work. Hopefully it is not apparent that is it liquor from the packaging, lest anyone get the wrong idea :eek:
I don't get to opportunity to get to bars often but great idea. There is a family function in March at a golf club which I would expect may have a decent selection to try.
Understood your comments, particularly on the Mac 15 oak. And yes, the Mac 12 was very pleasurable as was the Balvenie 12 doublewood. Again, glad I was able to detect they are similar.
Thanks again, and keep those reviews coming!
You can read all my reviews Here.
The Masters of Malt box is shipped USPS requiring you to pick it up from the PO (at least my two packages were shipped this way). They don't have all the whiskies I think they should, but they have a nice variety.
I have always struggled with this exact problem - how does one convey exactly what the flavours are. The discovery of bannana in a Grants blend was something of a breakthrough moment for me.
My 2 top tips are:
1) Add a drop (just a drop) of spring water. This can help to lower the ABV hence reducing the covering natre of the alcohol as well as 'lift' some of the more subtle flavours.
2) Close your eyes. You may look a little silly when tasting in public but in denying yourself one of your senses you are able to focus more on the others i.e. no sight can help focus on taste.
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