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Whisky Words: Phenols

Whisky Words: Phenols

Phenols play a significant role in the appreciation of Scotch whisky, particularly in the context of its flavour profile.

Vic Cameron, one of our whisky lecturers says: “Phenols are the chemicals that we get in our peat smoke, that attach themselves onto the malt and then go through the distillation process into our whisky and gives us the peaty, smoky medicinal flavours that we get in our Lagavulins, Laphroaigs and Ardbegs."

Phenols are a class of organic compounds that contribute to the aroma and taste of whisky. They are often associated with smokiness and medicinal notes commonly found in peated whiskies.

In Scotch whisky production, phenols are primarily derived from the peat used to dry malted barley. Peat is a partially decomposed organic material found in certain areas, particularly in Scotland. When peat is burned to dry malted barley, the smoke generated contains phenolic compounds, which are absorbed by the barley during the kilning process.

During the subsequent stages of whisky production, such as mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation, these phenolic compounds are further transformed and integrated into the whisky. The level of phenols in the final product depends on various factors, including the peat used, the duration of peat smoke exposure, the distillation process and the type of cask used for maturation.

In Scotch whisky appreciation, the presence and intensity of phenols are often evaluated to understand the whisky's flavour profile. Whiskies with higher phenolic content typically exhibit smoky, peaty or medicinal characteristics. The perception of phenols can vary widely among whisky drinkers, with some preferring heavily peated whiskies for their bold and distinctive flavours, while others may prefer whiskies with lower phenolic content or even none at all.

Understanding phenols is essential for whisky enthusiasts and professionals alike, as it allows them to appreciate and distinguish different styles of Scotch whisky based on their unique flavour profiles, which can range from light and floral to robust and smoky.

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