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'Dead Guillemot, Fabric Plasters and Blackened Engine Grease' - Glen Moray unveils whisky’s wackiest tasting notes ahead of World Whisky Day

What are the weirdest whisky tasting notes you've heard?

Published: May 20, 2022
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To tie-in with World Whisky Day this weekend (Saturday 21 st May), Speyside single malt Glen Moray asked the experts to reveal the strangest tasting notes they’ve encountered.

Leading whisky writers, including Dave Broom, Henry Jeffreys, Jim Coleman, Ian Wisniewski, Mark Gillespie, Brian Townsend and Philip Day all rose to the challenge and revealed their funniest findings, pet peeves and guilty pleasures when it comes to ‘interesting’ whisky lingo.

As Henry Jeffreys confessed: “My bête noire for tasting notes, and I’m as guilty as anyone, is being unnecessarily specific, for example saying Conference pear, rather than just pear, Manuka honey rather than just honey, wild
strawberries and Columbian Coffee.

"I think they are used to give a false sense of exactness.

"But, that’s not to say that tasting notes have to be a plain. I love silly comparisons.

"My favourite ever tasting though, comes from wine and it is ‘sturdier than Robert Mitchum’s trousers press’. Beat
that!”

Jim Coleman revealed one tasting note that has stuck with him is ‘tastes like the left wing of a dead seagull on an Islay beach’.

Whilst whisky aficionado Dave Broom also has a soft spot for an avian analogy, citing Charlie MacLean’s taste of ‘dead guillemot’ as his firm favourite.

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From hints of paint thinner, motor grease and Cullen Skink, to notes of beeswax and Germoline, Glen Moray’s findings reveal that whisky lingo is indeed an acquired taste.

Below are some favourites that the experts and Glen Moray fans have flagged:

  • Tastes like
  • Pork scratchings dusted with paprika
  • Dirt
  • Squid ink
  • Purple
  • Damp cardboard
  • Spicy cigarette ash
  • A touch of the tack room
  • Roofing tar
  • Plankton
  • Driftwood campfire smoke – a tasting note that is not all together unusual, however as Whisky Cast’s Mark Gillespie points out, one he has caught holy hell for from his family over the years who always want to know “when where you ever around a driftwood campfire on a beach?”
  • On the nose, with a hint of
  • Sileage
  • Wet Labrador
  • Toilet Duck
  • A wet worsted blanket
  • Damp autumnal hay
  • Scented candle (but which scent?)
  • In a word
  • Grungy
  • Masculine
  • Flaccid
  • Inoffensive
  • Gullet-warming
  • Flinty

And the best of the rest when it comes to descriptions:

  • ‘Like a young cricket bowler joining the senior squad too young: some of the delivery is wayward but the power, energy and enthusiasm is there in abundance.’
  • ‘Like a liquidised Tunnock’s Caramel Log in a glass’
  • ‘It’s a sit back with a cigar and show off your cufflinks kind of dram’

Dave Broom explains: “Our sense of smell is an internalised sense and therefore the most personal.

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"That means we all have different memories and triggers when we smell something. It depends on your background, where you live, what you eat, when you first encountered an aroma.

"No surprise then that you get some wild descriptors - but they are the right ones for you.

"The key is to know what they mean. If I smell clean rabbit hutch/hamster cage I know I'm smelling a malty whisky.

"You might smell biscuits, or dusty attics or a dead mouse. It hinders enjoyment if you don't allow people to relax and allow their memories to come out.”

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One thing many of the experts agree on however, is that it may be time to give whisky a bit of an update by being more alive to the aromas around us and using descriptors and terms that are universally understood.

James Collins, Glen Moray’s UK Marketing Manager said, “Our team at Glen Moray are firm believers that whisky should be accessible to all and that it may be time to give whisky terminology an update.

"Ideally tasting notes should inform drinkers, so there is a risk that unfamiliar cliched phrases may be off putting to drinkers.

"Our distillery is known for experimentation and it’s this sense of adventure and fun that we would like to see when it comes to updating the language around whisky”

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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