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- What kinds of whiskey flavors are there? -

Whiskey op het vat

I recently sat in my favorite cafe with a friend. He ordered a smokey whiskey. A smokey whiskey? Are there different flavors of whiskey? If so, what types of whiskey flavors are there? This called me for an investigation.

There are indeed different flavors of whiskey. These flavors can be divided into 4 flavor profiles. Mild / soft, medium / grainy, full / rich and powerful / smokey. The taste can be influenced by, for example: Cereal, peat use, distillation and the wooden barrels in which whiskey matures. 

For the remainder of this article, I will go into more detail about flavor profiles, how the flavor changes due to different influences, and how whiskey should taste.

The flavor profiles

Mild & soft

The mild & soft whiskeys are easy to drink whiskeys. This flavor profile is therefore an entry-level model among whiskeys. Often it is natural scents that come out with this flavor profile. An example of a whiskey that matches this flavor profile is the Jameson.

Medium & grainy

Whiskeys that match this flavor profile can be either mild or tart. In this flavor profile it is mainly fruity scents that predominate. Medium grainy whiskeys are also suitable for making cocktails. An example of a whiskey that matches this flavor profile is the Johnny Walker Red Label.

Full & rich

The characterful whiskeys fall within the full & rich flavor profile. These include intense sweet flavors. The scents of dried fruit are appropriate for the passionate whiskeys within this flavor profile. An example of a whiskey that fits with this is the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee.

Powerful &smoky

Powerful and smoky says a lot about this flavor profile. This segment includes heavy whiskeys that are not for every whiskey drinker. With predominant flavors of fire and oak, this is a unique taste sensation. An example of a whiskey that fits with this is the Talisker Skye.

What influences the taste

At the producer:

  • Cereal type: What type of grain is used. Examples of cereals used to make whiskey are: corn, barley and wheat. Each grain provides a different taste.
  • Peat use: Peat is used in the drying of the malt (the sprouted barley). Peat has a smoky taste and thus affects the entire taste of the product. This flavor is a hallmark of Scottish whiskeys.
  • Distillation: The more often a whiskey is distilled, the milder the taste. This is also the reason that Irish whiskeys are often softer in taste than Scottish whiskeys.
  • The barrels: Whiskey must age in barrels for a long time. During this maturing process, the wood of the barrel influences the taste of the whiskey. For example, the partitions use a different type of wood than the Americans. In addition, it also influences what was in the barrel for the whiskey. Leftovers can adjust the taste.
  • The environment: This refers to the soil in which grain grows as well as the natural scents and aromas.

At the consumer:

  • Storage environment: One of the factors that influences the taste is the environment in which the whiskey is stored. Is it dry or damp? cold or warm? Dark or light? This all affects the taste of the whiskey.
  • Glass: As with beer, the glass you drink from is important. It is often the case that a matching glass enhances the taste and smell of the whiskey. For example, you have a ‘Snifter’. This is a tulip-shaped glass that is made to slowly warm up the whiskey by the heat of your palm.
  • Temperature: Do you drink the whiskey with or without ice. Of course, ice makes the whiskey colder. In addition to that, ice ensures that the alcohol taste and odor is suppressed. It is true that you must be careful not to overcool the whiskey. This means that too much water has melted from the ice cubes and mixes with the whiskey. When this happens, the entire aroma has worn off. This melts less quickly and will therefore add less water to your whiskey. You can also buy whiskey stones. These stones are reusable and do not water. Ideal for a cold glass of whiskey.
  • Water: Water has two effects. Change of taste and change of smell. Because of this effect, water makes it easier to get to know other sides of the whiskey. However, it is true that the first whiskey taste and smell is no longer there due to water. A fun fact is that by mixing water and whiskey an energy is released. This energy ensures that the temperature of the whiskey rises by about 2 degrees.
  • Man: Man, means the tongue. The tongue is important for the taste, because of the different taste buds, it is possible that with one sip of whiskey you can taste different flavors. Other food can also change the taste. For example, spicy food changes the taste experience because of the use of other parts of the tongue. Connoisseurs also say that your emotional state affects how you taste whiskey.

The influence of wood

As mentioned above, the wood of the barrel has a major influence on the taste of the whiskey. Each oak species has its own properties and flavor influences. Below are 3 examples of oak types used during whiskey production.

European oak

Of these 3 types, European oak is the longest used. It started with oak from England and Scotland, but after almost no tree remained here, European brewers moved to Russia. After a short intermediate step to the French oak, nowadays the Spanish oak is used. Flavors that suit the European oak are dried fruit, cinnamon, and caramel.

American oak

This oak species came into use at the end of the Second World War. In addition to the Americans themselves, the Irish and Scots also started using the so-called bourbon casks. The American oak is ideal for making barrels because this tree grows straight and is therefore easy to use because of its straightness. In addition, it is an advantage that the wood type has a high vanilla content. This creates a distinct taste. Other flavors that go with the American oak in addition to vanilla are honey, nuts, and spices.

Japanese oak

Japanese oak is also called Mizunara oak. The Japanese oak, like the American oak, has a high vanilla content. The oak wood was put into use for the whiskey industry in 1930. It is a soft but sturdy wood. The Japanese wood is only used at the end of a maturation process to get the desired taste in the whiskey. Flavors that suit the Japanese oak are flowers, fresh fruit and wood.

whisky vaten

Taste and smell whiskey

The eye

Before the tasting process starts, the color of the whiskey is first looked at. It is important that the whiskey is visible with a light background. The color shows how long the whiskey has matured, in which environment it was made and how old the whiskey is. The darker the whiskey, the longer it has matured. In addition, a warm climate creates a dark color of whiskey. After observing the color, you are supposed to tilt the glass 45 degrees. After doing this you have to straighten the glass. During this movement you can see the drops run down the glass. The shorter the drop marks, the more alcohol there is in the whiskey.

The nose

After you have carefully viewed the whiskey, the tasting process begins. The smelling processes. It is important to smell that the whiskey is in motion. The movement of the whiskey releases aromas. Take short pinches and slowly move your nose into the glass. It is important that you do not smell continuously. The intention is that a new scent aroma enters the nose with each sniff. As mentioned before, you can then add a drop of water. This releases other scent aromas.

The taste

After the look and smell round, the real work begins. Tasting the whiskey. During the first sip it is important that you do not swallow the whiskey right away but let it go completely over your tongue. Because the taste buds are meticulously organized spread over the tongue, you get different flavors from one sip. It is important when tasting that you have not eaten anything spicy before and that no food remains are left in the mouth. These all have an influence on the trial process. Finally, the glass in which the whiskey is served is important. This must match the aroma that emerges in the whiskey. For example, certain whiskeys must first come to temperature before they are drunk.

The aftertaste

In a wine tasting it is normal to spit out the wine after tasting. This is different with whiskey. The aftertaste is the most important element of the entire tasting process. The longer the finish lasts, and the taste stays in your mouth, the stronger the character and aroma of the whiskey. A short finish takes about 1 minute, and a long finish takes about 15 minutes. An exception to the aftertaste are the old whiskeys. These can have a finish of several hours.

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