547 - Too Soon? The Whisky Flavour Map

Happy 2012! By now, you’re probably still in the earnest stage of your New Year’s resolutions. If one of those is about your determination to cut back on drink, this might not be the best thing to read right now.  


Maybe you should bookmark this post for that moment when you again feel like enjoying a drop of something strong. For this map celebrates not just the merely palatable, but rather the positively appetising. Or, as put so emphatically by the Bunk, that suave Baltimore murder police from The Wire: “The taste, Jimmy, the taste!”

This map is a handy guide to Scottish single malt whiskies, plotted on a grid with two sets of variables. Horizontally, from light (left) to rich (right); and vertically, from delicate (bottom) to smoky (top). 

These are the main taste variables in the vast and bewildering universe of uisge beatha [1]. In Scotland alone, over 90 distilleries produce over 2,000 brands of whisky. Many of those are blended; aficionados will prefer the single malt whiskies, i.e. whiskies produced by one single distillery, using only one type of malted grain, and aged in oak casks for at least three years. Even in the strictly defined and regulated category of Scottish single malt whiskies, there are still over 800 varieties [2] - of which only a few are represented here. 

“I know that people find whisky confusing - and they often try blended Scotch and get put off whisky for life”, says whisky expert Dave Broom [3]. “They are really missing out […] You need help to find what you like.”

Which is why Broom developed the aforementioned grid, also known as the Whisky Flavour Map. The map allows samplers of single-malt whiskeys to explore taste relations between them, and discover new ones to their liking. 

The horizontal axis differentiates lighter from richer flavours. According to Broom, the Glenkinchie 12 (years old), on the lighter end of the spectrum, “had light floral grassy notes”. Clynelish 14, was “more textured, silkier, waxy and unctuous”, so halfway between the Glenkinchie and the Singleton of Dufftown 12, with its “nutty, almondly, dried-fruit flavours”.

The position on the vertical axis is determined by the whisky’s degree of ‘peatiness’. Peat can be used to heat the pot stills in which the damp malt is dried, during which time the smoke gets into the barley - more time, more smoke, more smokiness. A Laphroaig 10, anyone? If less or no peat is used for the fire, the taste will be delicate rather than smoky, like with a Scapa 14.

Many thanks to Michael Castelein for alerting me to the Whisky Flavour Map, which can be downloaded at www.malts.com.

________

[1] Scottish Gaelic for ‘water of life’, and origin of the word ‘whisky’ (written as whiskey when referring to the Irish or American variant). Similar etymologies underlie Scandinavian akvavit, a grain- or potato-based distillate, flavoured with caraway and other spices, and eau de vie, a fruit brandy.

[2] According to Michael Jackson’s still very influential ‘Complete Guide to Single Malt Whiskies’ (1999). No, not that Michael Jackson. This one.

[3] In this article in The Scotsman, d.d. 23 August 2009.

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

Keep reading Show less

Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

(MsMaria/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
Keep reading Show less