The aroma of whisky consists of a set of odorous molecules. More than 200 aromatic molecules have been identified in single malt whiskies (TNO, 1996).
These aromatic molecules only account for some 0.3% of the content of a bottle of whisky, while the rest is water and ethyl alcohol. And yet it is that small share that makes every whisky different from others, and whiskies different from other alcohols.
Some of them, alone or in combination with others, evoke familiar aromas: butter, vanilla, coconut…
This means that we detect odorous molecules shared by the whisky and the corresponding aroma.
For example, if we find a butter note in a whisky, it is because it contains diacetyl, the molecule characteristic of a buttery flavor. The presence of vanillin gives a vanilla note, syringaldehyde a woodsy note, 2-acetylpyrazine a popcorn or toast note, guaiacol a cough syrup impression, and whisky lactones denote time spent in an American oak barrel, and so on.
Types of aromas
Hundreds of aromatic molecules have been identified in whisky, too many for us to associate one by one to a particular product. However we can group some of them according to when they appear in the whiskymaking stages. This leads us to classifying aromas according to these stages.
We distinguish aromas that arise:
- during malting
- during fermentation
- during distillation
- during barrel aging
- from the water used.
Book excerpts from Le Nez du Whisky 54 aromas. Turn to page 55 to find out more!
Jean Lenoir’s selection
Le Nez du Whisky 54 aromas:
Floral notes: 1 blackcurrant bud, 2 geranium, 3 honey, 4 rose, 5 tobacco leaf, 6 hay, 7 green grass. Fruity notes: 8 pineapple, 9 cherry, 10 peach, 11 pear, 12 apple, 13 lemon, 14 mandarin, 15 orange, 16 pomelo, 17 dried fig, 18 walnut, 19 prune. Woodsy notes: 20 oak, 21 resinous, 22 sherry, 23 toasted almond, 24 toasted hazelnut, 25 coconut, 26 caramel, 27 chocolate, 28 custard, 29 vanilla, 30 anise, 31 cinnamon, 32 ginger, 33 herbs, 34 mint, 35 nutmeg, 36 allspice, 37 black pepper, 38 liquorice, 39 earthy. Various notes: 40 biscuit, 41 coffee, 42 toast, 43 malt, 44 butter, 45 leather, 46 broiled meat. Phenolic notes: 47 smoky note, 48 peat, 49 seaweed, 50 seashell, 51 medicinal, 52 rubber, 53 tar, 54 sulfur.