Friday, December 09, 2005


"If I like a particular malt whisky, what other whiskies
might I also enjoy?"

Many people setting off on what may be a lifetime's journey of whisky exploration are puzzled by the different flavours and characteristics of whisky - particularly single malts - and wonder what a particular dram tastes like. Beginners may turn their noses up (literally) at a pungent Laphroig or Talisker and only come back to those Island drams much later on.

We're indebted, therefore to David Wishart, whose book, Whisky Classified: Choosing Single Malts by Flavour, can help not only those taking the first steps, but also more experienced imbibers. The classification system is reproduced here, by kind permission of David.

In essence what he and his researchers did was take the tasting notes from 10 whisky books published in the late 90s, along with the notes from the distillers. That produced 86 single malt whiskies, which Wishart called benchmark malts and excluded rare and premium brands that were specially aged, cask conditioned or finished. They also decided not to cover distilleries that had been demolished or are not currently in production.

A vocabulary of 500 aromatic and taste descriptors was compiled and were grouped into 12 broad aromatic features: Body (Light-Heavy), Sweetness (Dry-Sweet), Smoky (Peaty), Medicinal (Salty), Feinty (Sulphury), Honey (Vanilla), Spicy (Woody), Winey (Sherry), Nutty (Oaky-Creamy), Malty (Cerealy), Fruity (Estery) and Floral (Herbal).

Thereafter the results were fed into a computer program which pumped out 10 clusters of single malt whiskies. All the technical stuff is here:

Classification of Single Malt Whiskies

Cluster A ( Full-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, Pronounced Sherry with Fruity, Spicy, Malty Notes and Nutty, Smoky Hints): Balmenach, Dailuaine, Dalmore, Glendronach, Macallan, Mortlach, Royal Lochnagar;

Cluster B ( Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Nutty, Malty, Floral, Honey and Fruity Notes): Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Ben Nevis, Benrinnes, Benromach, Blair Athol, Cragganmore, Edradour, Glenfarclas, Glenturret, Knockando, Longmorn, Scapa, Strathisla;

Cluster C (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Fruity, Floral, Honey, Malty Notes and Spicy Hints ): Balvenie, Benriach, Dalwhinnie, Glendullan, Glen Elgin, Glenlivet, Glen Ord, Linkwood, Royal Brackla;

Cluster D (Light, Medium-Sweet, Low or No Peat, with Fruity, Floral, Malty Notes and Nutty Hints ): An Cnoc, Auchentoshan, Aultmore, Cardhu, Glengoyne, Glen Grant, Mannochmore, Speyside, Tamdhu, Tobermory;

Cluster E (Light, Medium-Sweet, Low Peat, with Floral, Malty Notes and Fruity, Spicy, Honey Hints ): Bladnoch, Bunnahabhain, Glenallachie, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, Glen Moray, Inchgower, Inchmurrin, Tomintoul;

Cluster F (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, Low Peat, Malty Notes and Sherry, Honey, Spicy Hints ): Ardmore, Auchroisk, Bushmills, Deanston, Glen Deveron, Glen Keith, Glenrothes, Old Fettercairn, Tomatin, Tormore, Tullibardine;

Cluster G (Medium-Bodied, Sweet, Low Peat and Floral Notes ): Arran, Dufftown, Glenfiddich, Glen Spey, Miltonduff, Speyburn;

Cluster H (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Smoky, Fruity, Spicy Notes and Floral, Nutty Hints ): Balblair, Craigellachie, Glen Garioch, Glenmorangie, Oban, Old Pulteney, Strathmill, Tamnavulin, Teaninch;

Cluster I (Medium-Light, Dry, with Smoky, Spicy, Honey Notes and Nutty, Floral Hints): Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Glen Scotia, Highland Park, Isle of Jura, Springbank;

Cluster J (Full-Bodied, Dry, Pungent, Peaty and Medicinal, with Spicy, Feinty Notes): Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Clynelish, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Talisker.

Whisky Classified: Choosing Single Malts by Flavour, David Wishart, Pavilion Books, London 2002.

Sorry it's such a long post, but it seems to answer a lot of questions. And next time you're buying in the Pot Still, mine's a large Cluster J, thanks very much!

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