There’s an abundance of nutty flavors in your whisky. Nuttiness is a characteristic present in both new-make spirit and mature whisky, though it’s most commonly associated with mature whiskies aged in well-seasoned sherry casks. You may be able to call out a specific nut by name when you taste whisky, though nutty aromas and flavors are often complex and overlap with notes of wood, oiliness, and butteriness, as well as roasted or cereal characteristics.
First off, identify your nut—differentiating pecan from pistachio, or hazelnut from macadamia. Then consider its form. You may detect almond, but are those almonds whole, sliced, nibbed, or ground? Squirrel away some other flavor descriptors, as nuts can be spiced, candied, or roasted: dry, honey, or maple. They can also be present as nut-based textures and flavors—nut butters, nut oils, nougat, marzipan, praline, and chocolate-hazelnut spreads—or baked goods like nut cookies, florentines, or pecan pie. And don’t discount the aromas of the nutshells—a dry, aged whisky might remind you of hazelnut shells, the pitted surface of an almond shell, or the split skulls of a walnut once the nut has been pried free.
Science informs us that a whisky’s nuttiness is the product of multiple compounds. Their sensory threshold is influenced by how those compounds interact when set against other attention-grabbing flavor compounds. Short fermentations can promote a nutty, grainy quality in new-make spirit, which is even more noticeable when high-roast malts are used. The furfural created during malting and distillation can also possess a grainy quality reminiscent of marzipan or almonds. Experiments have found a correlation between the perception of nuttiness and the laboratory detection of methylpyrazine, also associated with oiliness, and 2-furanmethanol, which consorts with roasted-nut qualities.
In mature whisky, a degree of nuttiness can also arise from cask extractives known as oak lactones. This characteristic is more pronounced when coopers work with well-seasoned oak from the sawmill. Charring of oak staves also promotes methylpyrazine and 4-methyl-5-vinylthiazole to produce a dry, roasted, nutty, woody quality. Finally, aside from the complexities of wood chemistry and the ongoing internal chemical reactions that take place over years, a sherry cask will also impart the fortified wine’s inherent nutty, dried fruit qualities on the maturing whisky. So, basically, that’s it in a nutshell.
Go Nuts: Taste Different Types of Nuts in These Whiskies
Taste almonds in Powers Three Swallow, which is chock full of warm marmalade, citrus, green apple, and spices.
Warm up with the roasted nut flavors in Bunnahabhain 18 year old, fragrant with sweet sherry, dried fruits, rich oak, and a briny finish.
Enjoy brazil nuts in Scotchdale 8 year old, brimming with peach slice, baked cookies, dry oak, and hot peppery spice.