Whisky's weirdest tasting notes

From 'plankton' to 'the colour purple'... Whisky writers share some of the most bizarre ways they've heard a dram described.

This Saturday is World Whisky Day. To mark the occasion—and also presumably just for a bit of a laugh—the team behind Glen Moray Speyside reached out to a number of top UK and US whisky writers to ask a simple question: What is the strangest way you've ever heard someone describe a whisky?

Whisky aficionados including Dave Broom, Henry Jeffreys, Jim Coleman, Ian Wisniewski, Mark Gillespie, Brian Townsend, and Philip Day all rose to the challenge to reveal some of the funniest, strangest, and most incomprehensible reviews that they have come across in their time.

Some of the writers cited scathing and bewildered takedowns written up by unimpressed critics (—'hints of paint thinner'; 'spicy cigarette ash'), whilst others recalled the maniacal and euphoric praises uttered by connoisseurs who had just found their new favourite tipple (—'sturdier than Robert Mitchum’s trousers press!').

Many of the tasting notes referenced food items, but never mind chocolate, cereal, and fruit... Perhaps you would be interested in a whisky that is 'reminiscent of cullen skink', as one reviewer found; or better still, 'pork scratchings dusted with paprika'? Another critic, probably more impressed than the last two, reviewed a whisky which reminded him of 'a liquidised Tunnock’s Caramel Log in a glass.’

More obscure notes ranged from niche comparisons to flavours such as 'squid ink' and 'damp cardboard', to the conceptually awkward parallel one individual drew to between the contents of his tumbler and 'the colour purple'. (Maybe this one only works if you have synaesthesia?).

A show-stopper which Jim Coleman has never quite been able to stop thinking about: ‘Tastes like the left wing of a dead seagull on an Islay beach’... Keeping with the seabird theme, Dave Broom is quite fond the comparison to a 'dead guillemot' offered by Scottish whisky writer Charles MacLean.

Further aromas and flavours referenced included: 'wet Labrador', 'roofing tar', 'plankton', 'dirt', 'Duck toilet cleaner', and 'a scented candle'—although this last reviewer didn't think it necessary to specify which scent, exactly, so you will have to pick your own. Adjectives ranged from 'grungy', to 'masculine', 'flaccid', and 'flinty'.

If you are confused, you're not alone. Some in the whisky world think its about time for a linguistic shift to occur. Glen Moray have stated that whilst there is room for imagination and experimentation when it comes to sharing tasting notes, this shouldn't come at the cost of leaving consumers feeling confused or excluded. James Collins from Glen Moray's marketing team says: '[We] are firm believers that whisky should be accessible to all and that it may be time to give whisky terminology an update [...] there is a risk that unfamiliar cliched phrases may be off putting to drinkers.'

Dave Brooms offers the following explanation for why tasting notes sometimes just don't hit the mark: “Our sense of smell is an internalised sense and therefore the most personal. That means we all have different memories and triggers when we smell something. It depends on your background, where you live, what you eat, when you first encountered an aroma. No surprise then that you get some wild descriptors—but they are the right ones for you."

What do you think—are you perplexed by the language that is often used to describe whisky these days? Or is it a just fun and useful way for people to share ideas about Scotland's favourite drink?

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