The world of whiskies offers an incredibly diverse range of flavour profiles. There is the light-bodied and sweet Jameson, the fruity and floral Chichibu, and the smoky, briny and heavy Lagavulin, and many other different beasts.
So many choices can be overwhelming. If you are struggling to decide which brand of whisky to try next, this is the guide for you.
You can divide up the whisky world into 5 Flavour Camps:
We have allocated each bottle we review to one of these Flavour Camps, based on the most prominent, dominant flavours found in the bottle. For instance, the Ardbeg Blaaack expression is labelled Smokey and Peaty.
Do note that we’re really just going for a handy classification guide here. Occasionally, there might be variations and overlaps within a Flavour Camp. A sherry-matured Lagavulin could be really fruity and really peaty at the same time. But such is the duality of everything in life.
1. Fragrant and Floral
Whiskies under this Flavour Camp have light estery aromas of fresh cut flowers (remember walking by a florist?), cut grass, and light green fruits, such as green apples, starfruits, green grapes and green mangoes.
Such whiskies tend to be refreshing, light-bodied on the palate, and slightly sweet and crisp (like white wine).
An example of a Fragrant and Floral expression is the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old.
2. Fruity and Spicy
Whiskies under this Flavour Camp have notes of ripe, juicy fruits, such as red apples, oranges, pears, peaches, mangoes and even persimmons. These whiskies also tend to be aged in American ex-bourbon oak, and would show somewhat mild woody flavours of coconut, bread toast and vanilla. Certain sweeter expressions might have notes of caramel, honey and custard. There also tends to be a little bit of heat in the form of cinnamon or nutmeg notes.
Such whiskies tend to be medium-bodied on the palate.
An example of a Fruity and Spicy expression is Glenmorangie The Original 10 Year Old.
3. Malty and Dry
These whiskies might remind you of a rich malty beer like a Paulaner. They have a lot of malt flavours with flour-y notes of biscuits, breakfast granola, McDonalds’ Hotcakes, and unroasted nuts.
The palate tends to be medium-bodied. Such whiskies are a little drier than the above, and tend to have some woody notes.
An example of a Malty and Dry expression is the Auchentoshan 12 Years Old.
4. Rich and Round
These whiskies are a little bolder and more intensely-flavoured. There are lots of sticky dried fruits here such as raisins, dried dates, dried plums, dried apricots and Chinese hawthorn flakes (山楂 / shān zhā). This shows the use of European ex-sherry oak casks, which imparts lots of rich sweet wine flavours.
The palate is heavy bodied. Such whiskies are also usually a little sweet and a little dry due to the tannins from the sherry oak (like drinking red wine).
Two examples of Rich and Round expressions are the Aberlour Abunadh, or Aberlour Olorooso Cask 13 Year Old.
5. Smokey and Peaty
These whiskies remind you of going to an outdoor BBQ party. The most dominant flavour here is the smoke that comes from burning peat. With a closer look, you may notice different types of peaty flavours, from sootiness of barbeque meats, smoky bacon, to the lighter smokiness of smoked salmon, Oolong tea or Hojicha. Where the peat is derived from a more coastal region, there are some maritime notes such as seaweed and brine. Certain Japanese expressions might even have a fragrant smokiness of temple incense.
The texture is either heavy-bodied or somewhat oily and viscous on the palate. A good peaty whisky should not be too overwhelming with the smoke – if there is a lot of smoke, the whisky is usually balanced with a good amount of sweet dried fruit flavours. If there is a moderate to low amount of smoke, this is usually balanced with some light sweetness of green fruits or juicy orchard fruits.
An example of a more gentle Smokey and Peaty expression is the Caol Ila 12 Years Old.
An example of an intense Smokey and Peaty expression is almost any Lagavulin you could get your hands on.
Let’s get drinking!
And that’s your handy guide to help you decide on the next bottle of whisky to drink. By no means is this an exhaustive description of all the flavours you would encounter in wonderous whiskyland. But we have to start the conversation somewhere, don’t we?