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Issue 3 - Sensorary evaluation

Whisky Magazine Issue 3
May 1999


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Sensorary evaluation

Charles Maclean continues his course by reinventing the wheel.

The first two pieces in this series have stressed the importance of smell in the evaluation and enjoyment of Scotch whisky – hence the use of the rather ponderous ‘sensory evaluation' rather than simply ‘whisky tasting'. So when we address ourselves to the question of how to describe whisky, we are talking mainly about putting words to smells. Compared to this, describing taste is simple, and I will say something about it later.

It is notoriously difficult to describe aromas, yet they are the most evocative dimension in our sensory universe. Think how memories of childhood can be awakened by certain scents; think how a place or a time, a holiday or a meal, can be vividly brought to mind by a smell – for good or bad. Remember, while there are only four primary tastes (sweet, sour, salty and bitter) there are 32 primary aromas, and we can detect some of them diluted to one part in a trillion. Every sample of malt whisky presents a bouquet of aromas – in some cases 20 or 30 identifiable scents – and although it is now possible to measure trace quantities of aromatic compounds scientifically, the only means of assessing the overall impact of a whisky is by nosing and tasting.

Professional tastings for the trade set out to be as objective and analytical as possible. The conditions in which tasting takes place are carefully controlled, and members of tasting panels are rigorously trained: if the human instrument is the best available, training is the standardisation ...

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