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Issue 31 - A salt on the senses

Whisky Magazine Issue 31
June 2003


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A salt on the senses

Can you taste salt in whisky? Many say of course you can, but the suggestion incenses others. Peter Woodsputs the case against

Scotch malt whisky has come a long way in the past 25 years, and not just in the all-important aspect of availability. Educated drinkers now have access to a wealth of words about the history, manufacture and appreciation of whisky. No other spirit can match it for sheer quantity and quality. Sadly though, in the sea of information there are seductive but treacherous tides of misinformation. The most invidious of these is the bizarre concept that whisky can taste salty.

The first use of ‘salty' as a descriptor was in the Harrod's Book of Whisky, a supplement to Decanter Magazine in 1978. The tasting team coined the phrase “Manzanilla of the North” for Old Pulteney, because it reminded them of allegedly salty manzanilla sherry, and was attributed to the use of sherry casks for maturation. Prior to 1978 no writer seems to have detected salt in any whisky.

That is hardly surprising, as distillation is one of the best desalination techniques there is.

However, in the mid-1980s, Michael Jackson cottoned on to the ‘Manzanilla of the North' concept, but he attributed saltiness to the influence of the sea, and rapidly applied the descriptor to whiskies from every distillery within spitting distance of a high tide.

No one dared gainsay the master, and now it is de rigueur to accredit saltiness to a distillery's product if one can get even a fleeting glimpse of a Caledonian MacBrayne from the top of the pagoda.

Flavour is the combination of aroma, mouth-feel and taste, and...

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