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How to Taste Barn Notes in Whisky

Step up your tasting vocabulary by learning how to detect notes of hay, straw, burlap, and other barnyard flavors.

How to Taste Barn Notes in Whisky

September 7, 2022 –––––– Jonny McCormick, , , ,

Certain whiskies conjure up life on the farm. Picture yourself in a barn, inhaling scents of sweet meadow hay and golden stalks of straw, mingled with sacks of dried corn. The barn itself is built from weathered planks that carry the scars of their past—with knots, flaky paint, splits, and misshapen nails that still hold firm against the elements. The aromas of barn boards bring a different sensory pleasure to whisky compared to fresh oak, as the barn's timber may come from alder, spruce, or pine trees.

Burlap sacking made from natural fibers—typically jute, flax, or hemp—also fits into this aroma spectrum. In some distilleries' filling rooms, bung cloth—little ragged squares of burlap—cradle each bung as they are hammered tight into the casks. This versatile cloth finds utility elsewhere as coffee sacks, scarecrows, sandbags, rugs, and rope. Agreeably, these aroma characteristics associate with other dry olfactory sensations reminiscent of nutshells, wood shavings, grist and grain, dusty earthen dunnage floors, freshly baked bread, and dry spices. These flavors and aromas can be found in the cereal-forward styles of Irish blends, rye whiskey, single grain scotch, Lowland single malts, and the occasional Japanese whisky. As with most aromas in whisky, no single compound is responsible, but grassy notes are associated with aldehydes that originate from barley lipids, and distillers can emphasize these characteristics by working with cooked grains and green malt. Aldehydes typically develop during fermentation, but their impact on the dram in your glass depends upon what then occurs during distillation, maturation, and blending. The presence of aldehydes as grassy dry vegetation or straw is defined by the whisky's profile as the blender combines different elements into a matrix of flavors, with oak extractives sometimes contributing positively to their sensory detection. The pick of the crop will result in a delicious whisky that's outstanding in its field.

hit the hay: These whiskies offer bales of barnyard flavors


Barn Boards—Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel-Proof Rye
Roasted nuts, dark fruits, cinnamon, black tea

Burlap—Kilbeggan Traditional
Honey, lemon, white chocolate, crisp spices

Straw—Tenjaku Blended Japanese
Baked pastry, aniseed, sweet orange, ginger