Where flavour comes alive
Ready to step into the light? Then it’s the perfect time of year for the Society’s Young & Spritely flavour profile, as Julien Willems explains.
August is upon us, and with so much brightness and warmth, nature is now fully awake, bursting with energy and buzzing with activity. If you are looking for flavours to match the season, one of the Society’s flavour profiles stands out – it’s time to bring your bottles of Young & Spritely whisky back into the limelight.
With their abundance of fizzy and wine-like notes, and fresh and citrussy zing, these whiskies will no doubt bring back a few memories. Prepare yourself for sunny, outdoor aperitifs, a lazy Buck’s Fizz breakfast or maybe canapés with a flute of bubbles topped with a sprig of something fresh. What will it be for you? Spearmint, apple mint or peppermint? From citrus freshness to plum tart or a waft of beeswax, where do these flavours come from?
Let The Spirit Soar
Weaving through the different flavour profiles we have established that whisky is a matter of balance between different elements, at the top of which are the spirit and the cask. In the present case, spirit is the main contributor. For a Young & Spritely whisky to truly spread its wings and showcase its light and zingy nature, the spirit shouldn’t exhibit heavy masking flavours such as peat and smoke. To back up this claim, since 2014, of the 284 Young & Spritely whiskies bottled by the SMWS, 98 per cent were distilled from unpeated malts. The highlights of the Young & Spritely whiskies are their zingy, fresh, mentholic and citrussy flavours, and these are generally associated with the spirit. In fact, these notes are often present in whiskies from all types of casks and ages, but are simply not the dominant flavours.
As to what’s behind citrussy flavours and fresh zingy experiences, there’s no need to look much further than the esters. We know that these compounds are produced during the fermentation of the wort and can be responsible for an array of different natural fruity impressions. Lemon, lime, clementine, mandarin, bitter lemon – you name it. Esters, though they are the result of natural processes, can also surprise us, bringing more fun to the party with artificial flavours like gummi bears and wine gums.
Speaking of wine, it’s easy to imagine how the combination of ethanol and esters – particularly of a light grape-like and citrussy nature with a hint of wood influence – could be responsible for what we perceive as fizzy, bubbly wine notes. Moreover, it’s never all black or white. Depending on the types of esters and their relative concentrations, your nose and taste buds might well be reminded of other drinks that you are familiar with.
Plum tart is also on the menu at our boozy outdoors picnic, with suggestions of dough, pastry and cereals coming into the mix, helping to reinforce the backbone of these Young & Spritely whiskies. Ongoing research suggests that these flavours might be linked to aldehydes, which appear during the fermentation process in the wort and ultimately make their way through the stills into the spirit.
Although a bit more anecdotal here, summery beeswax aromas could potentially be linked to the presence of the long chain esters that we discussed in our focus on the Oily & Coastal flavour profile.
That’s something our members who have taken to adding a splash of water to their drams will be familiar with, perhaps without realising. As the Society’s spirits educator Dr Andy Forrester explains: “These long chain esters contribute to chill-haze and the hazy appearance of Society whiskies when they are diluted to around or under 46 % abv.”
A Partner In Growth
The spirit is not flying solo, though. It needs a cask, a lifelong mate on its long journey to maturity. Over 96 per cent of Young & Spritely expressions stem from first-fill, second-fill or refill bourbon casks in relatively equal proportions. Therefore, contrary to preconception, these whiskies do not appear to predominantly come from refill and older casks. At an average age of just over nine years old, they are still spring chickens by traditional Scotch whisky standards (although, with so many non-age statement expressions out there, this may no longer be true). Indeed, having spent less time in their cask may explain the lighter wood influence.
All in all, American oak seems to be a firm favourite for this profile. And indeed, after nine years cosily nestled in the blanket of charred oak coating the inside of bourbon casks, these whiskies never fail to deliver: the cask char having made short work of any immature, or new-make-like characteristics.
In a nutshell, even though the casks might appear to be of tamer disposition than those that push whiskies towards darker, fruitier, oakier or spicier flavours, their personalities are no less fascinating: fresh, bright and bursting with citrussy zing and green herbaceous crunch – the perfect late spring and summer outdoors tipple.
If you’re feeling peckish it’ll liven your aperitifs, picnics and brunches. Whether neat, with a splash of water or in a fresh lime and mint garnished highball, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this lively liquid bird song.