There are four areas of taste, sweet, salty, sour and bitter.
You may have been taught that different parts of the tongue detect different tastes, but scientists now believe that this too is a myth. The thousands of taste buds on the tongue send signals to the brain, which in turn interprets them into the flavours we taste. So, it is technically our brain, not our tongue, that makes sense of what we are drinking.
Taste is so subjective that opinions always vary. Anyone conducting a whisky tasting should tell you their thoughts so that you have a guide, but interpretations will naturally vary from person to person.
"One of the best things I have read is that ‘nosing and tasting is the subjective opinion of an objective matter." -ALAN WINCHESTER, THE GLENLIVET MASTER DISTILLER
The texture or mouthfeel of the whisky, called the ‘body’, plays a role in how we taste it. Taller stills, such as those we use at The Glenlivet, tend to give a lighter spirit. This is because only the lightest vapours reach the top to go over into the lyne arm, condense and become whisky. Smaller stills create an oilier, heavier spirit.
The length of time the flavours remain in the mouth after swallowing, known as the ‘finish’, also plays its part in whisky tasting. With The Glenlivet, the length of finish varies from one expression to another, from short to medium to long. The original spirit for all expressions is the same, so much of the finish will be dependent on the casks used.
Evaluating whisky is a fascinating, enlightening and enjoyable thing to do, especially among friends. But sometimes it’s best not to think too hard about it. Whatever you taste, embrace it, as the most important thing is that you enjoy your dram.