Few liquors are as celebrated as Scotch whisky. It is at once familiar yet shrouded in mystique, and also the subject of a rich and complex subculture, with its own enthusiasts, pundits, and critics. The world of Scotch whisky demands to be navigated carefully, given the numerous types available and the many ways to drink them. It can be a little intimidating, but there's nothing more satisfying than trying different whiskies in the pursuit of “the one.”
Understand this: The best whisky is the whisky you like. It’s a matter of personal taste. To help you determine your preference, it pays to be able to identify some basic Scotch whisky flavor profiles, such as these:
Some Scotch whiskies have a sharp and slightly pungent aroma, reminiscent of the smell of ash or burning charcoal. This is referred to as its “smoke,” and comes from a part of the production process that involves drying malted barley in a furnace. At this point, some distilleries stoke the furnace with peat (a soil-like material made of decomposed vegetation and used as a natural fuel), infusing the Scotch whisky with that smoky flavor. Coupled with the peat’s earthiness, the smoky flavor profile adds a rich dimension to the drink. Johnnie Walker Black Label features a smoky taste, which can be brought out further by adding a few drops of water to it.
In whisky, sweeter flavor profiles can be attributed to vanilla notes and caramelized sugars present in American oak casks used during the drink's maturation process. All Scotch whisky is made using barley, which also contributes to the drink's sweetness. It's easy to like Scotch whisky with sweet notes, and an excellent example of this is Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve, which features a very prominent honey flavor; served best chilled with crushed ice and a slice of orange.
You may hear of different fruits being used as reference points in discussing the taste of Scotch whisky. Fruitiness usually comes out in fermentation, during which compounds called esters are formed. Esters are the reason for the fruity flavors, which are further formed as the drink is distilled and eventually matured, sometimes in wine casks that enhance the fruitiness. Among the more commonly detected fruit flavors in Scotch whisky are apples, pears, oranges, figs, raisins, dates, and cherries. Scotch whisky that matures in American oak and European oak casks will possess this fruitiness. For a fruity tipple, try Singleton of Dufftown 12 Years as a cocktail, and mix up a good whisky sour with it.
The best way to educate yourself about Scotch whisky is to keep drinking it. It’s not enough to just read about it—taste as many varieties as you can, take your palate for a spin. Before you know it, you’ll be happily free-falling into the rabbit hole of the Scotch whisky world.
Start your Scotch whisky journey by celebrating International Scotch Day on February 8 with Johnnie Walker and Singleton. Join the celebration throughout the #LoveScotch month of February, which will be full of opportunities to discover a lot of good whisky. Visit JohnnieWalkerPhilippines on Facebook or @johnniewalkerph on Instagram for more details.