Across the myriad tasting note sites out there, texture is rarely touched upon in any great depth. Low ABV bottlings are invariable noted as being “thin”, Clynelish is doggedly described as “waxy” even when some expressions exhibit this characteristic much more readily than others. Throughout my writing for The Dramble, I’ve tried to add my thoughts on spirit weight and ‘mouthfeel’ into my notes as much as the rigidity that the ‘nose, palate, finish’ construct allows. But it’s far from straight-forward. As we all taste individually, so too do our mouths also ‘feel’ individually.
The somatosensory system (which detects pressure, pain, warmth etc) runs throughout the body, and is a complex network of neurons and neural pathways that respond to changes at the surface of the body. Our perception of the texture of solids and liquids in the mouth comes from part of that the same system – where mechanoreceptors interact with substances and send neural impulses which our brains then translate into a surprisingly wide array of sensations:
Cohesiveness; density; dryness; exquisiteness (perceptive quality); fracturability; graininess; gumminess; hardness; heaviness; moisture absorption; moisture release; mouthcoating; roughness; slipperiness; smoothness; uniformity; uniformity of bite; uniformity of chew; viscosity and wetness.
Whilst many of these refer primarily to solids I.E. food, already you can see that a broad selection can easily be applied to our appreciation of the texture of liquids. “Thin” or “oily” – doesn’t really scratch the surface of what’s possible here.
Many ascribe the texture of whisky as being directly related to its ABV. And to a certain degree these people are correct. The relationship between the volume of water and volume of alcohol is indeed a determinant as to the likely end texture that the mouth is able to detect. Alcohol prickles, water soothes – together their effects result in a homogenous texture.
However, ABV is far from the only factor which determines the mouth qualities of a spirit. Tannins – which are often described solely in terms of their dryness are a primary driver of the feel of whisky – as they can also be wine. In lower amounts they promote structure and create what one might define as a velvety or <shudder> smooth taste. But at higher extractions dryness, astringency and bitterness will overpower the mouth’s mechanoreceptors resulting in a greater detection of these sensations, sometimes over and above the weight that they have lent to the spirit
Similarly, vanillins and esters (particularly of the long chain variety) contribute significantly to fulsome and rich mouthfeel notes – even in very small quantities. And whilst the first of these is a derivation of maturation, the former is more a function of the processes undertaken prior. Longer fermentations, quick distillations and lower levels of reflux (in both the pot and condensers) all result in a ‘heavier’ spirit which has a higher proportion of volatile compounds remaining in the final distillate.
And that’s precisely the style of spirit that is produced at Speyside’s Dailuaine where large 19,000L pots and horizonal lyne arms are visually suggestive of a lighter style of spirit, but that the actual processes employed – 75 hour fermentation, 4-5 hour wash and spirit distillation and stainless steel coolers – all of which produce a spirit style that’s naturally weighty.
The fourth batch (batch 3 seems entirely missing in action) of Boutique-y Whisky’s offering from Dailuaine is a 20 year old expression that’s been matured in ex-bourbon. A mere 442 bottles were produced at an ABV of 50.4%. they’re available via Master of Malt for £156.95.
Nose: Ripe apple slices, lemon jelly cubes and lemon balm combine with sun sugar, sunflower oil and varnished oak. Cereal character provides a backbone with barley water and sweet cinema popcorn. In the background gentle touches of interesting spices/herbs – mustard seeds and parsley. Water presents heathery honey, golden syrup and cashew nuts whilst retaining much if not all of the clarity of the whisky.
Taste: Full-bodied, oleaginous and mouthcoating – all of which help with the delivery and sustenance of flavour. Poached pears, apple compote and dried banana slices sit with peppered caramel and honey spread over toast. Texture persists throughout with lemon gels and mentholated oakiness joined by sunflower oil and singed pastry cases. Reduction once again retains much of the weight – a syrupy consistency with brass polish and biscuit crumbs joining the adventure.
Finish: Quite long with dry, peppery cask spice and earthiness from sundried soils.
Dailuaine Batch 4 is (so far) a real highlight of the Boutique-y Whisky 2020 Advent calendar. Following on nicely from yesterday’s Glentauchers and with a not completely dissimilar profile – but here, the additional underlying weight of the Dailuaine spirit takes things up a notch. It’s consistently palpable throughout and holds its structure even when diluted – adding not only to the mouthfeel of the whisky itself, but in how the spirit is able to communicate its wide array of animated flavours into and around the surfaces of the mouth. In summary – simply very good indeed.
For another viewpoint – head over to Sorren at OCD Whisky
Review calendar provided by Atom Brands