View Full Version : Definitions

11-14-2006, 18:09
I am confused by the words used to describe bourbon. The words which reference other tastes (e.g. caramel) are easily understood, but the others are not.

A thread which defines such words would be a useful resource for those new to reading taste descriptions (perhaps just me at the moment).

What does it mean for a bourbon to be smooth? Can a bourbon be rough?

Some bourbons are described as dry. I thought that this meant the absence of sweetness, but sometimes a bourbon is described as both dry and sweet.

I am confused by the concept of lightness. Sometimes a single flavor is descibed as light. Sometimes the bourbon as a whole is described as light. Is this the same as light bodied? Is light bodied that opposite of full bodied? I am not sure as to what either means.

I have once read a bourbon described as chewy?

11-14-2006, 18:34
:lol: I'm confused too, as are many here.

Often descriptions are similar in a bourbon tasting, but just as often there are subtle variances. My mental image and sense of what "citrus" is, is probably not exactly the same as Gary, Tim or Timothy. I may think I taste more lemon than grapefruit, Gary may think he tastes more grapefruit than orange, etc.

Nobody is wrong. It's just different tastes are linked to different experiences. What's leather? I don't have a clue. Tim has a specific mental picture of what smell and tastes remind him of leather. To put that in to a strict definition I think would be nearly impossible.

Instead go back and taste the bourbon that Tim is describing as leather and try to identify it. That I think is the only way to define many of these terms. A few months back somebody (I think it was Leif) asked what is caramel, you'd be surprised how hard that is to answer.

11-14-2006, 18:52
Well, since Mark is casting out my name (in vain:skep: :lol: ?) here, let me add my two (s)cents worth: When Mark says, "It's just different tastes are linked to different experiences", he's pretty much hit it.
While caramel is caramel is caramel, whatever it is in a bourbon that calls to mind the taste (and actual) memory each of us carries of caramel is what gets called 'caramel' -- and that will differ, at least somewhat, for each of us. (Sometimes I swear I can tell the difference between Brach's and Kraft caramels, even:rolleyes:!)
In other words, each description is really just a personal reference point, which will vary from taster to taster, but also will connect those of us with common tasting experiences. While we'll certainly agree on some/many flavors in a given bourbon, no two tasters will describe it precisely the same because our (taste) experiences are different.
Now, to me, a 'chewy' whiskey is one with some weight (body/mouthfeel) and a viscous quality that stimulates (different) taste sensations from different areas of the palate, encouraging me to slosh it around in my mouth to sense its full savoriness.

11-14-2006, 19:08
One thing to remember here is that we only taste 5 things sweet, sour, salt, bitter and unami (I hope I spelled that last one right)- everything else we describe as "flavor" is linked to smell. And of course smell is our most sensitive sense, smell can bring back long ago memories and feelings.

Smell is so linked to our memories that they can totally polarize your tastes and descriptions...I for example would never describe anything I enjoyed as tasting like freshly mown grass, even though I have read that as a positive taste in many wine tastings...I hate mowing grass, I'm allergic...I would rather let my entire property (if I owned any) become a jungle.

11-14-2006, 20:16
I got my greatest citrus impression from a single malt Scotch (Glenrothes 1974). It seemed sort of orange-like, maybe some lime; but I could also notice a sherry-cask influence as well. FWIW, I regret not getting a second bottle when I had the opportunity... I'd rate it as an 11 on a 10-point scale.

11-14-2006, 21:50
Beyond a certain point, a glossary of terms used in whiskey writing would be about as useful as a glossary for poetic symbolism, or a glossary of words describing emotions such as love. You're trying to translate sense impressions into language. Mainly you have to dive in, drink, think about what you're experiencing, think about how you might describe those experiences, see how other people describe those experiences, and take it from there.

11-14-2006, 23:15
It's actually "umami". I normally wouldn't pick a nit as small as this, but Google doesn't offer the correct spelling if one searches for "unami".

BTW, I think there was a thread that touched on this taste element about four years ago.

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield