Best of: 32 Primary Aromas? Myth Busting

This little story got a lot of attention, including a follow-up where Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast asked Charles MacLean to support his assertion. He basically said he read it somewhere. Sorry Charles. Didn’t mean to put you on the spot :)

While doing some research about the part that your sense of smell
plays when tasting/ drinking/ enjoying whisky, I repeatedly came across
the following statement in one permutation or another:

…there are only four primary tastes (sweet, sour, salty and bitter) but there are
32 primary aromas.

I found this to be an interesting little factoid – something that I’d never heard before – so
of course, I set about to find out what those 32 primary aromas might

Continued research turned up something odd. Charles MacLean, Whisky Magazine, Aberlour, The Scotch Doc, The International Centre for Brewing and Distilling, (and a few other random places) all state
unequivocally that there are 32 primary aromas. Yet not one of them lists those 32 primary aromas.


Just some of the sources (with links) that are spreading the myth:

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Best of: Call A Spade a Spade: SWA Response

David Williamson of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) got back to me with the SWA’s position on the Call A Spade A Spade story:

Many thanks for forwarding your proposals.  I have taken the opportunity to pass them to our team which considered all the responses to the industry consultation last year.

When the industry working group considered the range of possible category descriptions, the system you propose was indeed examined.  It is a logical approach, in line with that ultimately agreed by the industry (i.e. approaching classification in terms of ‘Singles’ and ‘Blends’), and easily understandable.  In the end, however, it was considered that the approach had certain disadvantages.

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Best of: Call A Spade a Spade: Industry Responses

I had a number of comments on my recent story Call A Spade A Spade.

Dominic Roskrow Editor, Whisky Magazine

I’m still very much of the belief that the word ‘blend’ should NEVER be used in a description of a product that contains only malt whisky. I therefore don’t think your definitions are any better. Sorry!

I have some affinity with the view that single malt whisky should be called just that. And anything with malt whiskies from more than one distillery COULD be just called ‘malt whisky’ or even ‘malt whiskies’.

But why not: mixed malts whisky, mingled malt whiskies or married malt whiskies?
Or to tie in with your suggestion:

  • A mix of malt whiskies
  • A marriage of malt whiskies
  • A combination of malt whiskies

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Best of: Call a Spade a Spade

Back in August of 2005 (in a story called A Rose By Any Other Name) I talked about the SWA-proposed nomenclature for the whisky industry.

In that story I went over the pros and cons for the existing and proposed nomenclature:

There are several terms in play. Let’s look at them objectively:


There are those purists who feel that the term “Vatted malt” should be used. 


This is the term that has been used for years, and those familiar with Scotch whisky know that “vatted malt” means a blend of single malts.

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Meaningless titles

I recently received the following email:

Good Day,

Caught this podcast by one of my favorite food writers.  Not sure about the comments from the “Master of Scotch” John Overslee.  He is awfully fond of Johnnie Walker Black. Thought he would come up with some other names.
Robert Bruce E.

Thanks for asking the question, Rob. Let’s get this straight once and for all.

The “Masters of Whisky” are Brand Ambassadors for the Diageo whisky brands.

Now, I know a number of the Masters of Whisky (formerly Masters of Scotch Knowledge) and, speaking for the ones I know personally, they are knowledgeable people who are great speakers and great representatives for their brands and company.

HOWEVER, I’m annoyed by the fact that there seems to be a concerted effort on the part of Diageo to position them as having had some sort of honor bestowed upon them – while failing to mention the Diageo association. This is not cool.

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Compass Box "Magic Cask"

Today’s story comes from guest writer Darcy O’Neil. Darcy is a bartender with a formal education in chemistry. His
motive for becoming a bartender was part by chance and partially to
fulfill his culinary desires. Darcy currently works as a bartender and
spends his time writing about his mixology, and spirit tasting,
experiences on his website, The Art of Drink.

Every once in a while you come across something at your local liquor store that catches your eye. Sometimes it is the bottle and sometimes it is what’s in the bottle that peaks your interest. In this case it was both. Compass Box is well know for making a variety of unique scotch whiskies, that usually follow traditional taste profiles, however with the very limited release of their Magic Cask whisky, they have moved into new territory. The bottle is nicely designed, and heavier than you’d think, but it was the liquid inside that made the purchase necessary. When you take a 16 year old Linkwood malt and age it for an additional year in a Madeira barrique, then blend it with a 14 year old Clynelish malt, you’ve just got to try it.

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Ulf Wins

Well known whisky enthusiast and Keeper of the Quaich, Ulf Buxrud’s book The Rare Malts won the 2006 award for Best Spirits Book in the World.

This is a pretty big honor considering that the 2005 winner in the category was Michael Jackson’s Whisky, The Definitive World Guide.

Rare Malts portrays all the distilleries involved in the compilation of the Rare Malts Selection series; a collection of outstanding examples of the makes of thirty-six legendary distilleries.  Each portrait contains histories and technical data, some never published before.  The portraits include flavour profiles, tasting notes and comments.  A special segment deals with tasting methodology; another gives a deeper insight into whisky nomenclature.  In addition the full story of the Rare Malts Selection series is told in detail.

Best of: Terroir-ism (Part 4)

This is part 4 of a 4 part series which discussed the concept of
“terroir” and its applicability (or lack thereof) to the production of

Dave Robertson, Robbo (formerly) of Jon, Mark & Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whisky Company, is always ready to chime in, and he is today’s guest writer for the final installment in the series on terroir:

In days gone by when the technical aspects were poorly understood it was common place for the then distillery manager to wax lyrical about his/her water source, barley and its own maltings, his/her traditional rake style mash tun with its 6 larch wood washbacks which filled the
small copper pot stills, heated by coal condensed via worm tubs and aged in old sherry/bourbon barrels on site in low lying dunnage warehouses before being mixed in 100’s of cask batches to create a
massive super blend.

It has only really been since the interest in single malts that the notion of “romantic marketing” and the need for terroir to be talked up in addition to provenance, origin, raw materials and ancient process
techniques have become public knowledge.

Romantic – yes. Consistent flavour and high quality – no!

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Chicago Whisky Week – Day 2 & 3

DAY 2 (Evening)

Tuesday evening started out at (where else?) Delilah’s for Mike Miller’s Whisky 101. A big group then headed over to the Duke of Perth for Fish & Chips courtesy of the Diageo Classic Malts. If you wanted to rub shoulders with industry insiders, this was the place to be. The teams from William Grant, Classic Malts, Highland Park were all there, sharing stories and having a good time. The night ended up (where else?) Delilah’s. I’m getting way too predictable.


On Wednesday I braved sleet and rain and jumped on the El to get over to the Erie Street Cafe to meet up with Jeff Topping and John MacDougall and try their new releases.

Jeff has a new bottling of his 15 year old Wild Scotsman15 year old vatted malt. Jeff continues to improve as a blender, and I think this is an improvement on the last bottling I tried. Using only ex-bourbon casks in his vatting, while not a complete disclosure of the recipe, Jeff did let me know that Bowmore, Ledaig, and Tamdhu are in there. Furthermore, despite Jeff’s tight relationship with Bladnoch and John MacDougall’s ties to Springbank, neither f those single malts are in the Wild Scotsman mix.

Jeff also served his first independent single malt bottling, a 13 year old Ben Nevis aged in an ex-bourbon hogshead and bottled at 46%. Distilled in 1992 and bottled in 2006, only 26 cases are available, most of those in Chicago and slightly fewer in Northern Kentucky. Jeff is looking at Mortloch and Bowmore for future bottlings.

Currently WS is only available in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Jeff hopes to be in Indian, California and Florida this year. Oh…want to be friends with Jeff? Go to

DAY 3 (Evening)

Headed back over to Delilah’s for a mini-American Whiskey expo. Buffalo Trace; Elijah Craig; Jim Beam; Wild Turkey, Wasmund’s, Kentucky Bourbon and Bulleit were all represented and pouring freely.

Rye whiskies are hot right now, but I must admit I tend to like Bourbons with higher corn percentages in the mash (like Maker’s Mark)…last night did a lot to develop my palate for Rye.

I chatted with Jimmy Russell who was pouring his fantastic Russell Reserve; Tom Bulleit gave me the run down on Bulleit Bourbon – which will be a story for another time; and Fred Noe introduced me to his Jim Beam Rye.

And when you are at Delilah’s, if Mary is behind the bar, ask her for one of her famous Margaritas. George Grant swears by them.

Chicago Whisky Week – Day 1 & 2


I’m in Chicago for Whisky Fest and the Whisky week events. I’m staying with friends Amy & Philip and their daughter Sofia. On Monday night Phil and I headed over to Delilah’s for a Classic Malt tasting hosted by Marty Duffy and Evan Cattanch.

Well…we misjudged the time and showed up just as the event was wrapping up. Never said I was always punctual.

We did get to chat with Evan, Marty and Mike Miller for a while. Mike told us about a special 13 year old Highland Park bottling he’ll be releasing tonight (Thursday) in celebration of Delilah’s 13th year anniversary.

The Delilah’s bottling will consist of 500 bottles from a second fill sherry butt…it’s cask strength as well at just about 57.5%.

Real tasty with strong dark chocolate and fruits, hints of tobacco and a salty finish. Very nice and will be available for $125 only at Delilah’s.


On Tuesday, I attended a tasting of the soon to be released Singleton of Glendullan, a release specifically for the U.S. market which for the time being, will only be available in New Jersey, Illinois and Duty Free.

Earning a very respectable 92 points from the Beverage Tasting Institute, priced at only $35 and smooth as a baby’s ass, this Singleton is obviously being positioned as the gateway for Johnie Walker Black drinkers who are ready to make the move over to the "dark side" – single malt Scotch.