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Issue 20 - Describing flavour

Whisky Magazine Issue 20
December 2001


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Describing flavour

Pip Hills penetrates the smokescreen surrounding the complexities of tasting, flavour and how to describe them in a way we can all understand …

Let's begin by looking at wine. These days, lots of supermarket bottles carry a detailed description of the flavour of the wine on a back label. You may have noticed that the taste of the wine seldom, if ever, resembles this elegant description. When that happens, there are two possibilities: either you're just not very good at tasting and miss what is obvious to the more educated palate of whoever wrote the notes on the label, or the description is wrong. If it's the latter, then either the writers are simply mistaken or they are lying to make a sale. The big question is: how do you, as consumer, tell which is the correct explanation?

We have a similar problem regarding whisky. Labels with tasting notes are not as common as they are in the wine industry, but in so far as the advertising of whisky appeals to rational self-interest it does so by implying the excellence of the flavour of the spirit. When companies offer us very old or rare whiskies, or whiskies matured in fish barrels, there is an implication that their wares taste better than the younger, more common whiskies, or those which aren't fishy. Why else ask us to pay more? It's difficult for the consumer to tell who is serious and who is not, or which firm is straight and which is, shall we say, misled by the extravagance of its own hyperbole. Price alone is no guide. As Dave Broom recently pointed out in his column (Whisky Magazine, Issue 18), the vogue for collecting whiskies has created a hiatus between price an...

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