What does whiskey taste like? British woman Grace Jones, who lived to 133 years old, attributed her longevity to drinking whiskey each night for the last 60 years of her life. She is not alone as whiskey is a favorite for millions of people around the world. In this article, I’ll describe what whiskey tastes like and what gives it its unique taste.
How to describe the taste of whiskey? The taste of whiskey is a complicated mixture of hundreds or even thousands of flavor compounds. These flavors can include candied almond, brown sugar, cedarwood, cashew, chocolate, red chili, orange pith, citrus, vanilla, smoke, leather, wood/oak, cedar, malt, fruit, nuts, and much more.
Three of the compounds that affect the taste of whiskey the most are water, ethanol, and guaiacol. Guaiacol is the flavor compound that gives whiskey that spicy, smoky, peaty flavor. Chemically, guaiacol is similar to many other whiskey flavor compounds such as vanilla and citrus.
The taste of whiskey varies depending on how it is made. For example, whiskeys produced in Ireland are known to be sweet and smooth because they are distilled three times. Whiskeys from other countries are only distilled twice so don’t taste as sweet.
In this article, I’ll describe the taste of different types of whiskeys, including:
- Rye Whiskey
- Irish Whiskey
- Canadian Whiskey
- Japanese Whiskey
- Tennessee Whiskey
- White Whiskey
Read on to learn more about what whiskey tastes like and what determines its unique taste.
What Does Whiskey Taste Like?
Basically, different grains are distilled and fermented to produce whiskey. That’s the reason why this special beverage has so many varied tastes. Certain grains can be used in the process of making whiskey. Different grains can also be combined to produce what is called a mash bill. Therefore, different mash bills will also taste different from each other.
Whiskey makers in Great Britain, particularly in Scotland and Ireland, and the USA produce thousands of whiskey flavors. These countries have been traditionally distilling all kinds of whiskeys for hundreds of years. They are using various types of grains and grain combinations.
Given that scenario, you will understand why the entire world has endless varieties of whiskeys. Some whiskeys taste like cedarwood, leather, candied almonds, a hint of orange pith, brown sugar, a slight taste of red chili, and even a trace of an old cardboard box.
There are many flavor compounds that affect the taste of whiskey. Three of those compounds are water, ethanol, and guaiacol. Guaiacol is the flavor compound that gives whiskey that peaty, spicy, and smoky flavor. Chemically, guaiacol is similar to many other whiskey flavor compounds such as vanilla and citrus.
In fact, you can get a thousand different tastes in a single category of whiskey. So, there is no single answer to what whiskey really tastes like.
What Is Whiskey?
First, you have to understand what whiskey is. Technically, whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage. To produce whiskey, a specific grain or a combination of grains is subjected to fermentation and distillation.
Fermented mash bill (the mashed mixture of different grains) is placed in wooden casks. The wood of the casks provides a distinct brown color to whiskey and enhances its taste. In other words, whiskey is a distilled spirit made from grains.
The process of making whiskey starts with the mashing of the grain. This process will release the grain’s natural sugars. The mashed grains (mash bill) will be placed inside the wooden casks to ferment into alcohol. Next, the alcohol will then be distilled.
This process will turn the alcohol into a more powerful spirit, which is now called whiskey. After the mash undergoes fermentation and distillation, it will be stored in a wine barrel. The color and taste of the whiskey are enhanced while it is stored.
As mentioned before, all kinds of grains are used to make whiskey. The typical grains used include wheat, rye, corn, and barley (malted and unmalted). Occasionally, quinoa and millet are also used.
Factors That Influence the Taste of Whiskey
As you can see, many factors can influence the taste of a particular type of whiskey. Some of these factors are:
1. The Type of Grain or Combination of Grains Used
A combination of grains is called a mash bill. Naturally, if you vary the mix of grains, you will also alter the final product’s taste.
2. The Length of Time the Spirit Is Stored
If a spirit is aged long enough, it will be smoother and tastes even better. The longer the distilled spirit is stored in wine barrels, the better it tastes.
3. The Type of Wine Barrel the Spirit Is Stored
There are wood (oak) and metal barrels, and the type of wine barrel that you will use influences the spirit’s taste. French oaks and American oaks are the typical wooden barrels used in making whiskey.
Aluminum and stainless steel are the metal wine barrels used. There are also whiskey manufacturers that use specific types of food-grade plastic for storing distilled spirits.
4. Other Factors
Other factors can also affect the taste of the final product. These factors may include variations in weather where the spirit is being stored, the containers used (whether old or new), and how were the old containers used before, among others.
Tastes of Different Types of Whiskeys
You have to drink whiskey to know what it tastes like. Regular whiskey drinkers know the taste of the most common types of whiskey. If you are new, you will be interested in the different tastes of whiskey. The different types of whiskey and their flavors are as follows:
Rye whiskey is one of the most common whiskeys available in England’s pubs and bars and evening joints in the United States. There is at least 51 percent of this type of whiskey. Rye is a kind of grass that belongs to the wheat family and is closely related to barley.
What does rye whiskey taste like? The taste of rye whiskey is grainy and spicy. Its flavor is the hard-edged version of bourbon.
Bourbon’s primary taste is sweet. But because of the charred oak, it also has hints of smokiness. To be considered bourbon whiskey, the spirit must contain at least 51 percent malted rye grain, rye, corn, wheat, and malted barley. Additionally, charred oak must be used in storing the spirit without any additives. This rule separates bourbon from the other types of whiskeys.
The most common flavor of Scotch is malty. Other whiskey drinkers say that it tastes similar to the characteristics of fire, leather, wood, rubber, and dirt. As its name implies, this whiskey is distilled and aged in Scotland. It tastes like bourbon but has a trademark ‘bite’ that hits you down the throat.
Warning to Newbies: Don’t start with Scotch.
What does malt whiskey taste like? Or what does scotch taste like? Scotch and malt whiskey both taste like spicy, like fire, with an added oak or wood flavor. You also might find the taste of rubber or even dirt in malt whiskey or scotch.
4. Irish Whiskey
The key to producing good Irish whiskey is three rounds of distillation. It’s the reason why Irish whiskey is the smoothest tasting whiskey of all. It is really smooth and not as sweet as American bourbons. This whiskey is great for sipping.
Barley is the major ingredient of Irish whiskey. It doesn’t have that burnt rubber and smoky taste of Scotch. To be legally considered Irish whiskey, the spirit must be aged in Ireland for at least three years. It should also be stored in wooden barrels.
What does Irish whiskey taste like? As mentioned earlier, Irish whiskey has a smooth, sweet, full taste. You will also find hints of vanilla with most Irish whiskeys.
5. Canadian Whiskey
Compared to other types of whiskeys, Canadian whiskey tends to be smoother and lighter. It is an excellent choice for newbies. This type of whiskey is usually made from various grains, although corn is its most common ingredient. Rye was added for some time, making it interchangeable to rye whiskey.
6. Japanese Whiskey
The first master distiller of Suntory, Masataka Taketsuru, came to Scotland to study. He also loved the taste of Scotch. That’s the short story of Japan’s Suntory whiskey, one of Japan’s biggest whiskey producers. The other is Nikka.
The taste of this whiskey is characteristically Scottish, but it really depends on the brand. It’s great for a relaxing time, as Bill Murray’s Suntory ad seems to say.
7. Tennessee Whiskey
Jack Daniel’s is a Tennessee whiskey. Many whiskey drinkers say that it is no different than bourbon, another American made whiskey. However, there’s one big difference between the two: the filtering method.
Tennessee utilizes the Lincoln County process, which filters the whiskey through charcoal before being stored in the cask. Its taste is comparable to bourbon.
8. White Whiskey
There are whiskeys in stores that are labeled “moonshine.” Moonshine originally referred to homemade alcoholic beverages. They are now called white whiskeys. Since they are not stored in wooden casks, their colors are white. White whiskeys taste like fire and whiskey-flavored vodka. Most of these whiskeys are insanely high proof.
We’ve answered the questions: What does whiskey taste like? What does rye whiskey taste like? What does malt whiskey taste like? What does Irish whiskey taste like? Next, let’s look at how to drink whiskey so that you really enjoy its taste.
How to Drink Whiskey to Really Enjoy Its Taste
Drinking whiskey can feel like drinking fire to a novice. That burning sensation comes from the alcohol. To make whiskey taste better, follow the below four tips:
1. Add Water
Adding a few drops of water will lessen the burning feeling on your tongue. It also somehow enables the whiskey to open up. That means you will begin to taste its flavors. Start adding one or two drops of water and see if it’s already to your liking. If not, add a few drops more.
2. Drink It Cold
The cold temperature will numb the burning sensation on your tongue. That’s the reason why the ads say, “whiskey on the rocks.” One or two ice cubes will decrease the hot effect of alcohol. However, it will also numb the whiskey’s flavors. Melted ice will also dilute the potency of the whiskey.
3. Sip It, Not Drink It
If you don’t intend to get drunk, you don’t need to gulp whiskey in large volumes. Sipping whiskey is the best way if you want to taste its subtle flavors. Taking smaller sips will help you enjoy it, especially if the glass you are using is designed to capture the whiskey’s scents. If they make their way to your nose, you will enjoy the experience.
Additionally, when it comes to whiskey, sipping is the best way to drink it. It’s just like you are sipping a cup of hot coffee. Just get enough of it to be able to enjoy its taste and aroma. It is not like gulping a cold glass of water because you are very thirsty.
4. Gain Experience
Drinking whiskey is an acquired taste. You have to drink whiskey several times before you can start enjoying it. Don’t drop it right away at the start and give yourself time.
Try sipping different types of whiskeys, too. That’s the only way you can determine which whiskey is your favorite. Training your tongue is the key to enjoying a glass of whiskey and the company it usually brings.
Correct Way of Drinking Whiskey
There’s a correct way of drinking fine whiskey. It’s a mistake to tip up your glass and glug the whiskey down. But if you want to enjoy drinking it, here’s how to do it correctly.
Start by just taking small tips of the spirit. As you sip a small amount, hold it in your mouth. Don’t gulp it right away. Give yourself time to smell the aroma and enjoy the taste as the spirit lingers in your mouth. Savor its subtle essences, too. After a few seconds of sensing it, that’s the time to swallow it down.
There will also come a time when you prefer your whiskey ‘neat’ with no add-ons. Ice will blunt the whiskey’s flavor and dull its subtle undertones. Fine whiskey needs to be appreciated, so it is not meant to be gulped down like a glass of water.
Conclusion – What Does Whiskey Taste Like? [Rye, Malt, Irish]
So, to recap, what does whiskey taste like? In nearly all good quality whiskeys, you will taste cashew, candied almonds, brown sugar, leather, cedarwood, a hint of red chili, a slight orange pith, and sometimes, a slight hint of an old cardboard box.
The taste of whiskey will vary by the process in which it is made. For example, whiskeys produced in Ireland are known to be sweet and smooth. They are distilled three times, that’s why. Whiskeys from other countries are only distilled twice. Moreover, the barley they use in Ireland is not dried over peat. That gives Irish whiskeys a smoky taste.
What does rye whiskey taste like? Rye whiskey tastes grainy and spicy. Its flavor is the harder-edged version of bourbon.
What does malt whiskey taste like? Or what does scotch taste like? Malt whiskey and scotch whiskey both taste like quite spicy, like fire, with an added wood or oak flavor. Some even taste rubber when drinking malt or scotch whiskey.
What does Irish whiskey taste like? Irish whiskey has a sweet, smooth, full taste. You will also find vanilla notes with most Irish whiskeys.
Don’t get turned off if you tried whiskey and do not like the taste. It can be strong for some at first. Whiskey is an acquired taste. Simply try different types but remember, moderation is key to enjoying this special drink.