Light & Delicate

Where flavour comes alive

Summer has settled, the days are long and bright, and Julien Willems is dreaming of a Light & Delicate flavour profile dram, savoured with a healthy dose of fresh air.

Whether you’re heading to the coastline, the mountains or spending some quality weekend time outdoors, I’m sure many of us are contemplating when to throw our next barbecue. With burning coals and scorching sun, we often seek refuge in the shade of a tree and its quiet moments of sweet reverie. Here’s where Light & Delicate whiskies come into their own, with aromas of fresh laundry, pine, green tea, blossom, flower meadows, peaches, fresh pastry and melon. A fresh and light pleasurable bouquet and a perfect sip when taking an impromptu dip in a crystal-clear burn (or stream) after a hot exhausting hill walk… if that’s your kind of thing!

Floral meets fruit

All in all, Light & Delicate whiskies shine because of the elegance that can be achieved in the absence of bold characteristics. As with the Sweet, Fruity & Mellow whiskies, esters play a key role in the fruity range of aromas we perceive. Here though, there is more room for fresh and summery distillates to blossom, out of the shadow of the cask. Lighter and floral estery aromas freely come to the fore. As a result, fruity flavours are now flanked by floral and sometimes herbal aromas. The specific esters responsible for these floral notes might not yet be known, but enjoying a peach and melon fruit salad while sitting on a freshly laundered blanket in a flower meadow does sound like a great start to a summer picnic.

After a nice fruity and floral starter, we can sink our teeth in the next item on the menu: fresh pastry. Ongoing research suggests that another family of compounds could be contributing to the flavours in the Light & Delicate profile: aldehydes. These are thought to contribute to the overall balance by creating malty, cereal flavours in ways we do not yet fully understand.

»When it comes to identifying the origins of flavour in whisky, there are many suspects, but very few sure-fire flavour compounds that can be pinned down as being responsible for one particular whisky flavour,” explains Dr Andy Forrester, the Society’s spirits educator. Ultimately, we can safely say that these compounds are derived from the malted barley and its processing.

Copper and casks

Let’s stop for a second and ask the seemingly obvious, what does light mean in the context of this profile? Creating a lighter spirit is achieved by distilling slowly and allowing for maximum contact between the copper in the stills and the vapours before they slowly condense into a clean crisp new-make spirit in relatively warm condensers.

You might not be expecting heavier spirits to fit well in the Light & Delicate profile, though. These heavier, more sulphury spirits with flavours typically described as meaty, oily, cereally, and nutty, often come from distilleries using worm tub condensers, where there is less contact between vapours and copper during distillation (for some examples try distilleries 36, 44 and 48).

There is however a non-negligible number of whiskies in the Light & Delicate profile that come from such distilleries. So maybe there is nothing wrong with enjoying a little slice of serrano ham and a few pine nuts with your picnic, so long as the nibbles don’t steal the show.

You may be wondering how do these heavier spirits land in this profile? Think no further than the cask. Without fail, since 2014 all the whiskies that have entered the Light & Delicate category have matured in American oak and more specifically, barring a handful of exceptions, in former bourbon casks. These vessels are not only often associated with flavours of stone fruits and peaches, they have also gone through a thorough charring process.

That matters a great deal, as the cask’s influence is not limited to what the spirit can extract from it. The cask not only gives, it also takes away: the carbon laid bare by the charring process creates a form of filter that helps re-balance flavours. As Dr Andy explains:»Char helps reduce the perception of sulphur compounds associated with meaty and heavier spirits as well as cereal flavours, but it isn’t clear how that happens. We just know from experience that it does.”

Freshen it up

All in all, with an average of 14 years of maturation, the magic of cask char and a slow mild extraction bring layers of elegance to these refined whiskies.

Ultimately, in July, should it become too warm for your usual tipple, pour a Light & Delicate whisky. Whether you sip it neat, with a bit of water or in a refreshing highball (suggestion), make sure you fill your hipflask to share the joy with your friends and add a splash of elegance to your sunny, summery picnics.

Head out to your favourite patch of meadow and remember your water, your picnic basket, (your midge repellent if you’re in Scotland), and let’s not forget the sunscreen: casks can take a lot more heat we can!

Try a Light & Delicate cocktail: Mizuwari with a twist

The classic mizuwari highball from Japan is simply whisky, water and ice, but as mixologist Paul Thompson says, the possibilities are endless. He recommends taking a Light & Delicate whisky such as Cask No. 6.49: The Life o’ th’ Building! A fusion of Carnation milk sweetness, rye bread and honey, then add a bar spoon of elderflower syrup, garnish with citrus peel or substitute the water for coconut water.