The 4 Elements in the Taste of Whisky, and some AI?

The question is often asked: What is the source of the flavours of whisky.

Charles McClean, accepted today as one of the great commentators on the industry, argues that it all comes down to three factors. In order of procedure, this is referring to:

  1. The ingredients
  2. The process
  3. The casks.

By law, Scottish whisky is made with water, yeast and barley. Of these three elements, more and more distilleries are experimenting with different types of barley. A few like Kilchoman on Islay use sheaves from their own farm. To contrast, the much-respected Paul John facility in southern India orders from suppliers way up in the Himalayas.

The process is divided up into several sections including malting, gristing, fermenting and mashing.

Arguably distillation is the most significant part of the process. The pot stills are shaped differently from distillery to distillery. And the lyne arms at the top of stills may be thick or thin, angled up or downwards. Each nuance will allow the spirit to have a different reaction with the copper of the stills.

However, all agree that the real ‘cooking’ takes place inside the barrel, bourbon or sherry. Speak to different tasters, but few will put the impact at less than 60% of the contribution to the flavours.

And here, I will add one more factor – the human side of things. As I continue on my journey, it takes something with deep knowledge, experience and understanding to end up with that special dram.

We are talking about someone with the intuition to mix a specific barley with an unusual barrel, having changed the length of fermentation time and used a different still. We are talking about a distillery owner, who has a team that will look out for an unfit barrel or barley that has been malting for too long.

These are not issues that can be supervised by AI – at least not yet. These are matters that are ‘in the blood’ (or nose) of the people at the top.

And what should you be trying next in order to wet your taste buds? Give me a call to learn of my latest recommendation.


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