May 2, 2006

Whisky — the 12 Tastes of Single Malt Perfection

By Paul Majendie

LONDON -- Smoky, honey, body, sweetness, medicinal, tobacco, spicy, winey, nutty, malty, fruity and floral.

For anyone trying to pick the perfect single malt whisky, these are the 12 "cardinal flavors" identified by a Scottish academic to tickle the tastebuds of connoisseurs around the world.

After sampling malt whiskies at almost 100 Scottish distilleries, Dr David Wishart is still standing -- and his classification has won official endorsement from the Scotch Whisky Industry.

"This is our national drink and it is Scotland's biggest export after oil. The industry employs about 40,000 people and it should be taken seriously," the honorary research fellow at the University of St Andrews told Reuters.

The world's thirst for Scotch certainly shows no signs of abating.

The latest figures released by the Scotch Whisky Association showed exports up four percent last year to 2.36 billion pounds ($4.34 billion), with Asia the big growth market.

Now, after Wishart's assiduous analysis, imbibers have an easily applicable guide to the taste and style of single malt whiskies, previously just classified by region.

"The industry has endorsed it," Wishart said.

Now 62, Wishart was introduced to the joys of cask-strength single malt by his father when still a student. He narrowed his list down to the distinctive dozen after eight years of research into the observations of master distillers across Scotland.

It appears this month in his book "Whisky Classified: Choosing Single Malts by Flavour," published in seven languages.

"I went through well over 1,000 tasting notes by other whisky writers and publications," he said.

"I wouldn't claim to be the world's best whisky nose."