How to Taste Berry Flavors in Whisky
May 6, 2021 –––––– Jonny McCormick
Berries are almost universal in their flavor appeal. Who doesn't relish plucking tart raspberries and fleshy blackberries from their thorny canes, biting into a fresh, juicy strawberry, densely baked fruit crumbles, jam tarts, and blueberry pancakes, or the bitter/sweet interplay of tiny black currants? Rather than specific berries, you might begin to decipher berry flavors in whisky with a mental color spectrum—from vibrant and tart reds, through inky blue, to juicy black. Next, decide whether the fruit is naturally fresh or processed in some way. Think like a whisky blender and consider how these berry flavors play among the sweetness, spice, oak, or smoke of the whisky. Are the berries cooked and sprinkled with baking spices or enveloped by milk chocolate?
Like most flavors, berry notes do not result from a single isolated chemical: The brain is simultaneously processing a multitude of chemicals and the familiarity comes from fitting these into a holistic configuration of recognizable forms. That said, specific compounds are integral to different berry flavors—like thiomenthone, found in buchu oil, which is a reasonable approximation of blackcurrant flavor.
No single whisky style is synonymous with berry flavors, but the most obvious source is from whiskies that have been influenced by a stay in wine casks, since grapes are, botanically speaking, berries. Flavors will vary according to the cask's previous vinous contents—whether port, sherry, dessert wine, or a robust red—maturation time and conditions, and bottling strength.
The presence of berry flavors is often accompanied by plenty of body, the mouthfeel benefiting from the natural sugars and cask extractives. Port pipes are most commonly used for finishing whiskies originally matured in bourbon barrels, but distillers occasionally use them to mellow whiskies for their entire maturation. American whiskeys, notably bourbons, often display blueberry or currant notes without the benefit of wine casks.
Nature provides crops of juicy raspberries and strawberries in summer and shiny blackberries that bejewel hedgerows in the fall, but with whisky, these delicious berry flavors please our palates year round.
Berry Nice: Rich, fruity whiskies plucked from the shelf
Unearth a basket of red berries with Kurayoshi 12 year old—wafts of red currant, chocolate, and chile flakes.
Embrace blueberries via Kavalan Concertmaster—fragrant with ginger, ground pepper, and dried tropical fruit.
For a bevy of blackberries, try Green Spot Chateau Montelena—brimming with red apple, damsons, and dry pot still spices.