The Glenlivet #BreakTheStereotype
Home Our Community

What does whisky taste like?

Learning how whisky tastes is one of the first steps to enjoying it. This complex spirit can have a ton of different flavour profiles, ranging from light and smooth to rich and smoky. Much of which is determined by how the whisky’s made and how it’s aged.


Perhaps you’ve never had a dram. Or perhaps you’re not sure what flavours go into a bottle. Either way, here we share the different tastes found in whisky.



Before we go into what whisky tastes like, first let’s explore what influences its flavour. 



The grains


Whisky, or whiskey as it’s sometimes spelt, is a distilled spirit made from grains. The most common are rye, corn, barley or wheat. Each different blend of grain helps give the whisky a unique depth. This also determines the type of whisky that’s created such as bourbon or rye, each of which have their own typical distinct flavour.

The cask


Once the ingredients are selected and the whisky making process is complete, the liquid can begin to mature in casks. This last step before bottling is what gives each whisky its own character. The time spent in the cask has a lasting impact on the spirit’s depth whilst the wood used is what gives the whisky its colour and unique flavour, affecting the sweetness and richness of the final product. 


Explore our guide to different types of whisky casks to see how each results in a different expression. 

The blend 


The way a whisky is produced also has a big impact on the lasting finish. It can be made from one variety, or a combination, with different blends resulting in different flavour profiles. Examples include single malts which are made at a single distillery from malted barley, or blended grain which mix together different single grain whiskies.



Most whiskies taste rich, smooth and full-bodied, with an essence of spiced, sweet notes such as vanilla, zesty fruit and oak. The individual flavours are more complex and depend on the type of whisky and how it’s been made.



Tasting the different types of whiskies


Rye whisky: Made using at least 51% rye grain, rye whisky has a naturally spicy taste with notes of black pepper, cloves and nutmeg. Some compare it to the flavours of whisky from Scotland’s Highland region.


Scotch whisky: This whisky must be made in Scotland and aged for at least three years in oak casks. This strict process results in a varied range of flavours from heavy peated smoky expressions to light and creamy whiskies. Almost all scotch whiskies taste smooth, malty and woody depending on whether they are blended or single malt, carrying a natural sweetness either from subtle fruits or syrupy caramel.


Bourbon whisky: The most common whisky in the US is made from at least 51% corn grain, resulting in a sweet blend with notes of vanilla, honey and maple. Some often have a smoky or nutty character when charred oak casks are used.


Describing whisky flavours


Learning how to taste whisky allows you to appreciate the individual nuances of different expressions and also helps you to know what flavours you prefer. The most common terms used to describe the taste of whisky are:


The nose: This first selection of flavours is what you’ll notice whilst smelling the whisky. This is a good starting point that opens up your senses to what may be a fruity, floral or woody whisky.


The palate: These are the notes you’ll notice on your first sip. It may be creamy or crisp, clean or silky. There will often be specific flavours that come through before you slowly swallow the whisky.


The finish: The lasting notes of the whisky that linger in your mouth, sometimes for a long time after drinking. These are often the driest or warmest flavours that leave a strong impression.




Whilst whisky is a delicious drink on its own, or on ice, it also makes a wonderful base for cocktails and mixers. Many flavours go with whisky, complimenting the sweet, fruity, spiced or fresh flavours of the spirit. 


Popular whisky cocktails include a Scotch Old Fashioned which elevates the whisky’s spicy smoothness with bitters and an orange twist. Or try a Maple Whisky Sour for a sweet, syrupy drink. Check out our collection of cocktails to find your perfect way to enjoy the flavour of whisky.


You can also infuse whisky at home to create your very own flavoured blend. Fresh ingredients including herbs, fruits, chocolate, and tea or coffee can make a powerful infusion personalised to your taste.