Whisky Magazine Issue 96
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Ian Wisniewski asks what gives a malt whisky its particular mouthfeel?
The texture (or ‘mouthfeel') of a malt is determined by a number of factors, including alcohol, water and various flavour compounds such as vanillin (which is extracted from the cask during aging, and contributes vanilla notes). Even small differences between the proportions of each influencing factor will result in one malt having a slightly, or significantly different texture from another. This explains why there is such variety in the texture of malt whiskies, from delicate, silky and velvety, to luscious, creamy and full-bodied. However, research into texture is still at an early stage, which means that exactly how the texture is determined is one of the least understood aspects of whisky.
Of all the factors that influence texture, alcohol and water are present in the greatest quantity. For example, a malt whisky bottled at 40% abv (alcohol by volume) comprises 40 per cent alcohol, and the balance of 60 per cent is almost entirely accounted for by water (with flavour compounds only accounting for a tiny fraction of this balance).
Malts are of course bottled at a wide range of strengths, which includes plenty of expressions at 43% and 46% ABV. The alcoholic strength is significant because this determines the proportion of alcohol to water, which in turn influences mouthfeel, as water and alcohol molecules have a different effect on the palate, and consequently promote a different texture. Alcohol has a ‘prickly,' puckering and drying effect, whereas water has the oppo...