The taste of Whisky is an ever-changing sensory experience.  Leave behind your preconceptions, open your mind and get ready to enjoy an absurdly intriguing plethora of flavours and taste sensations.  Here's some commonly used words to help you describe the sensory enjoyment you can expect.

AustereSeemingly stern, severe, and unadorned in character.

One flavour or aroma element does not dominate.


To be contrasted with “subtle”. Bold, dominant, hard to ignore flavours and presence in the mouth.


Refers to mouthfeel.


Evocative of grain associations.


Complex and begging careful attention and analysis. Frequently also implies that such analysis is difficult.


Seeming to possess many layers of flavour, for which time is needed to examine and characterise all of them.


Possessing the mouthfeel of, say, half & half.

Dark flavors

Reminiscent of flavours like molasses or Vegemite.


This is hard to describe. It reflects that it does not taste cloying or youthful. Usually clear, resonant flavors.


A trademarked name for a particular liqueur composed of scotch whisky, honey, and herbs.


Astringent and not sweet. In extreme cases the spirit can feel as if it contains no moisture.

EsteryAroma contains chemical esters. These are generally light, fruity, floral scents.
EthanolThe particular alcohol that we are referring to when we say “alcohol”.
FinishThe time period in malt tasting after one has swallowed the spirit.
Firm:Refers to mouthfeel. Contrast with “soft”.
Grassyldehydic, reminiscent of grass.
HarshAn unpleasantly aggressive or caustic flavour or feeling to the mouth or nose.
HeatherReminiscent of the aroma of heather.
HerbalReminiscent of kitchen herbs such as thyme, basil, lavender, or chamomile.
HotReminiscent of physical warmth, like freshly-brewed coffee.
Late PalateThe time period in malt tasting after the spirit has been in the mouth for a while but has not yet been swallowed.
Malt, MaltyRefers to the aroma and flavor of malted barley. “Malt” can also be an abbreviation of “Single Malt Scotch Whisky”.
MedicinalEvocative of memories of liquid medicines.
Mouth-coatingGiving the impression that it has coated the inside of your mouth, as with a syrup.

The tactile feel of the malt in the mouth. Largely a reflection of the physical qualities, but can also be significantly affected by flavour elements.


Aroma. When used as a verb, means to sample the aroma.


Evocative of the taste of nuts, or reminiscent of the alkaloid qualities of some nuts.


Influenced by aging in an oak cask. Implies a woody, spicy, astringent character.

Orange, Orangey

Reminiscent of the citrus fruit of that name.


Two meanings. Means either the taste components of the malt, or the time period when the spirit is in one’s mouth.

Peat, Peaty

Peat is a fuel formed of compacted vegetative layers harvested from the moors. A peat fire has traditionally provided the heat to dry the malted barley used in scotch whisky production. A significant flavour element in many malts, this heavy, smoky, somewhat vegetative flavour is imparted by the distillery water having run over peat, the peat smoke used in the drying process, or both.


Reminiscent of black pepper or hot chile peppers. Contrast with “spicy”.


Aroma contains chemical phenols. These are generally heavy, thick, tar-like scents.


Possessing robust, highly-flavored elements, usually with a thick mouthfeel.Aroma contains chemical phenols. These are generally heavy, thick, tar-like scents.

Salt, Salty

Whether or not the spirit actually contains NaCl, this term denotes the perception of salinity.
Sherried: Influenced by aging in a sherry cask. Usually implies a sweet, somewhat winey character.


Reminiscent of the fortified wine of that name.

Smoke, Smokey

Evocative of the flavor of smoke. Sometimes this is peat smoke, but other times the smoke is reminiscent of bonfires, leaf fires, log fireplaces, cigar tobacco, pipe tobacco, or something else.


Refers to mouthfeel. Like a marshmallow. Contrast with “firm”.


Reminiscent of spices such as cinnamon, clove, or nutmeg. Contrast with “peppery”.


Denotes the obvious presence of ethanol.


The elements of interest are not obvious on the palate. Contrast with “big”.


Either sweet in itself, or reminiscent of sweetness. Frequently implies a “wet” feeling in the mouth (contrast with “dry”.)


Reminiscent of green plants, especially grasses.


Refers to mouthfeel.


Full of vibrant, volatile, light characteristics. Flavours may not be well integrated. Think of a young wine.


Similar to “hot”, but to a lesser degree.


Reminiscent of wine.