The Science of Whisky
I don't know about others, but when I get interested in a topic (as I am about whisky at the moment) I like to learn as much about it as I can. One thing that interests me particularly at the moment is the science behind the flavours that we find in whisky. Some people will think that it doesn't matter what produces the flavours and will enjoy them for what they are. That's fine, but I think there must be others who find this topic interesting. Rather than distract form the pleasure of drinking whisky, I think a bit of knowledge adds another dimension to it
So this thread is meant for those with a similar bent (if there are any). I thought I'd start by mentioning some aspects of production which (from my limited research) may have an effect on the aromas and flavours of whisky.
Distileries are fond of expounding upon the source of their water, but how much does this really affect flavour? The water may travel through peat, but does that water taste peaty? If it doesn't taste peaty can it really be said to contribute a peaty flavour to whisky? Ive read about hard and soft water (hard water being that which has a higher mineral content), but at the moment I'm not aware of how this might affect the flavour profiles of whiskies.
Obviously there's a noticeable difference between peated and unpeated whisky, but before we even get to the drying stage there's he question of the source of the peat, and the layer of the peat used. How much do these things really have of on the character of the whisky?
Fermentation, Barley and Yeast Strains
Frementation produces many of the compounds that we later taste in our whisky. Do the strains of barley and yeast used have a noticeable effect on flavour? (Macallan seem to think the barley strain is important).
There are probably too many variables here to note under one heading (but I intend to go to bed at some stage): the size and shape of the stills, temeratures, timing and so on. And distillation, as a refining process, is going to have an effect on the compounds produced in the earlier stages.
Where to switch from foreshots, to heads, to feints? Each distillery has it's own formula, and this has to have a huge impact on the relative levels of compounds that end up in the spirit.
Maturation - the Wood
Since this is probably one of the most studied, and most understood aspects of whisky production and it's effect on flavours and aromas, I find it the least interesting. One thing that I did find interesting, and hadn't thought of before, was that the charred wood can produce many of the phenols that we usually associate with peat (which seems obvious in retrospect) - so that if you get a hint of peat or smoke from a whisky that's produced from unpeated malt, that's probably the cause.
Maturation - the Location
This still seems to be a matter of debate: can the location of storage during maturation really impart a maritime flavour to the whisky? My guess is no, until I see a scientific explanation of how the relevant compounds (whatever they may be) are infused into the spirit. Still, it's a romantic idea.
Bottling - Chill-filtering and Caramel
It's getting late, so I'll summarize quickly: chill-filtering removes some compounds that may cause whisky to go cloudy when diluted or chilled, but those compounds may have had an effect on the flavour. Caramel is often added to whisky to adjust the colour, but perhaps the caramel can be tasted.
OK, time to go.