I discovered Single Malt Scotch about three years ago, at a whisky tasting, and became an immediate fan. I liked the peaty stuff from the get-go, so the salesman at my local store suggested a 12-year-old bottle of Highland Park, from Scotland’s Orkney Islands. It was a good choice: smooth, mellow, and with enough peatiness to please but not overwhelm my newbie taste buds.
When it came time to buy a second bottle, I took his advice again. That time I opted for a famed brand, but was let down by what I considered its tame taste. Disappointed, I wished for a better method than guesswork to help me find a single malt that suited me.
Believe it or not, such a method has arrived.
Recently Diageo Scotland Limited (maker of Clynelish, Cragganmore, Glen Ord, Talisker, and other classic malts) teamed up with whisky expert Dave Broom to create the Single Malt Whisky Flavor Map, which makes it easy to identify the flavors you like and “explore the whisky landscape with confidence.”
Apparently I’m not the only person out here who’s puzzled by the range of whiskies, a fact that affects Diageo’s bottom line. As the company’s press release puts it: “…many consumers find the [single malt whisky] category complex and even intimidating. Faced with numerous brands, price points, ages, expressions and regional variations, they find it difficult to know how to reach a decision. This deters many potential malt whisky consumers.”
On the Flavor Map, whisky brands are plotted on a vertical/horizontal axis. Horizontally, they range from Light to Rich. Vertically, from Smoky to Delicate. Thus, once you determine a whisky you like, it’s likely that you’ll also enjoy other nearby whiskies.
For instance, Highland Park 12 is in the Smoky/Rich quadrant; its closest whiskies are Bowmore 12 and Talisker 18—so that gives me two likely possibilities to try. A bit further away, but still in my quadrant, are Cragganmore 12, Bruichladdich 15, and Lagavulin Distillers Edition (that latter one sounds really expensive, doesn’t it?).
The Flavor Map contains a succinct Guide to Flavors, which explains the terms used. Whiskies considered Rich, for instance, “contain characteristics often derived from the nature of the wood used during maturation. Typical flavors range from vanilla (given by American oak casks) to nuttiness to cigar box, chocolate, and dried fruit (from European oak casks).”
If you're a single malt fan, this handy Flavor Map is an absolute must. And it's free!
Download a free copy of the Single Malt Whisky Flavour Map.
Note: This post was updated in June 2010. Read the update