Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Tasting starts with learning what to expect

By JIM BEAUREGARD June 12. 2018 8:36PM
Samplers of three Glenrothes Speyside scotches are available at New Hampshire liquor stores. 

So, last week we began looking at Speyside scotch whisky, and this week we’ll finish up that topic.

The first thing to say today touches on the tasting process. Once you have learned the basics, you quickly discover that the tasting process is remarkably similar across beverages. Wine, beer, scotch, vodka, gin, tequila, you go through the same steps: checking the appearance, the nose, the palate, and then the conclusions you draw based on what you’ve just sampled.

What changes is the content — different flavors for different beverages. If you smelled or tasted overwhelming hints of peat in a Chardonnay, it would mean there was something wrong. If however, you had just sipped a glass of Islay scotch, peat would be dead on. So part of learning the world of spirits is learning the characteristic flavors of different types of spirits.

With regard to scotch then, one considers first the appearance of the beverage, then its aroma, its flavor and then draws some conclusions from it. But, what are the typical flavors of scotch? You can break them down into about six categories:

• Malty flavors include biscuit type aromas, so think breakfast cereal, and oats.

• Fragrant aromas can include flowers and fresh fruit, and may also include the aroma of fresh-cut grass.

• Fruity aromas contain, well, fruits, which can run from cooked to dried and can include flavors such as peach, mango and dried fruit such as raisin.

• Oily is less a flavor than a texture and they have a certain thickness to the often described as waxing this like beeswax and candle wax.

• Woody aromas and flavors are typically drawn from American oak that includes vanilla, pine and coconut (European oak, in contrast tends to impart more dried fruit aromas and flavors)

• Peaty refers particularly to scotches from the isle of Islay, but can be found in other scotches as well. This flavor profile runs from smoky to seaweed, smoked fish and different kinds of cured meats.

Given this wide range of flavors, it probably pays to do a little research so that you actually purchase a scotch that is going to contain a flavor profile that you enjoy. If, for instance, you’re put off by flavors like smoke, peat or seaweed, best to avoid any bottle that says Islay.

So, having said all that, let’s take a look at a third Speyside single-malt scotch from The Glenrothes distillery. Last week, we tasted two that took their particular flavor notes from the casks in which they are aged — specifically bourbon and sherry.

The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof). $36.99, New Hampshire State Liquor Stores. Like the two we reviewed last week, this scotch is more on the fruity than the malty side of things. Pale in color, it’s clear and bright in the glass, with a medium-intensity nose that brings out fruit and oak. It is dry on the palate, with fairly light body, medium flavor intensity that also brings in fruits as well as oak, including orange and some lemon, some raisin flavors, hints of cedar, as well as vanilla and just a hint of pepper.

All three of these Glenrothes scotches are available at the state liquor stores. And if you’re having a hard time deciding which to try, there is a three-pack of samples (100 mL each) available as well, so you can try a little of each and see which captures your fancy. The sample pack retails for about the same price as the full 750 mL bottle.

Contact wine and beer and occasional spirits writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com


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