Find out how Whisky becomes full and intense in taste. Horst Luening deals with the different influencing factors and presents some examples of Whiskies with a full and intense body.
Taste is a matter of taste! Is that really true?
More and more connoisseurs want the most intensive aromas possible in Whisky. In the past, it was more about 'drinking for effect' and not so much about taste, so Whisky was drunk on ice or even with Coke. We know this from Hollywood movies. People didn't want to enjoy the taste, it was all about the effect.
Nowadays, we do not enjoy our room temperature Whisky on ice, let alone with Coke. And we take our time with every sip! We want to taste as much as possible and give the countless taste buds on our tongue enough time for that. lce reduces the ability to absorb the taste. Our taste buds can distinguish sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. This is very important for evolutionary reasons - it protects us from poisoning since all food must pass our tongue to reach our stomach.
Even more important are the palate and the nasal mucous membranes. From there, the finest nerves, which penetrate the brain barrier, supply their information to the olfactory centre in the brain. From infancy onwards, more and more perceptions of aromas are stored here. The so-called olfactory memory is formed.
How to find a full, intense Whisky
The first aroma development in the Whisky production process takes place in the still. This is where the so-called distillery character develops. It is helpful here to take a closer look at the shape of the still. A pear-shaped, rather low still, such as the one found in Lagavulin, for example, produces significantly more aromas than a high or constricted still. So-called reflux stills also cause the alcohol to take many attempts before the distillate is collected in the Spirit Receiver via the head of the still. It is also important that all stills, meaning Wash- and Spirit Still, have the same shape. At Allt-A-Bhainne the Wash- and Spirit Stills are very different. The shape of the Spirit Still is especially important for the taste of the Whisky.
The number of distillation processes and the distillation speed also have an influence on the flavour. Triple distilled Whisky has less aromas than double distilled Whisky. And slowly distilled Whisky is more intense than faster distilled Whisky. Visually a hotter still, which distils faster, can be recognised by the darker copper colour.
When filling Whisky into the cask, it is important that not only the alcohol but also many other flavours, such as higher alcohols, carboxylic acids, esters, aldehydes, ketones and oils are retained, and not only the middle cut of the distillation process.
With all these influences one speaks of distillery character.
A further criterion for the development of aromas is the smokiness of a Whisky. Phenols are released to the malt (germinated grain) due to peat firing during the drying process and continue into the flavour of the Whisky.
By the way: Old Whiskies become more and more similar over time, as the distillery character is gradually lost through cask maturation.
Very decisive for the formation of aromas is the maturation in the cask. There are two different processes. During subtractive maturation, physical-chemical processes take place by oxydation and simple evaporation through the cask wall. These are processes that would theoretically also occur in a porous steel tank. During additive maturation, aromas from the cask wood are added. Fresh casks add significantly more aroma and taste to the Whisky than used casks.
American oak is softer in taste than European oak. By the way, Sherry, which used to be stored exclusively in European oak casks in the past, is also increasingly stored in American oak casks. American oak casks are significantly cheaper than European ones. Wonderful aromas in Whisky are created by the different secondary maturation in Sherry, Port wine, Moscatel, Rum, Wine and Beer casks. Generally, all casks can be used for Scotch Whisky as long as they are made of oak. Softer laws apply in Europe. Here, other kinds of wood such as chestnut or Swiss stone pine may also be used for maturing.
All in all, the art of Whisky making, taking into account the above mentioned influences, is to find the point at which the aroma and taste is optimal for bottling.
For many people it cannot be aromatic enough!
Examples of intense Whisky
This NAS Whisky, which is therefore probably relatively young, shows a strong distillery character. It is finished in European oak casks which previously held wine. Here many influences intensify the aroma of the Whisky.
This Whisky is relatively young, smoky and aged in Amoroso Sherry casks. The combination of the distillery character and the influences mentioned above results in fabulous aromas.
The distillery Aberlour distils in pear-shaped Pot Stills and also bottles in cask strength. The result is a wonderfully full-bodied Whisky.
Smoke dominates here. But also the secondary maturation in small casks and ex-Sherry casks gives the Whisky a full body and characterizes this intense, full-bodied Single Malt.
None of this says anything about whether a Whisky meets your personal taste! But you can pay attention to the following aspects:
- the shape of the stills (pictures can be found in the Whisky database of Whisky.de)
- age and cask maturation
- alcohol content
Ultimately, the search for new flavours is exactly what drives the Whisky connoisseur on his journey through the diversity of distilleries and their Whiskies. No Whisky tastes like the other but each Whisky is a little work of art of nature and the Whisky makers of the distilleries.