How to Taste Honey Flavors in Whisky

More than just sugar, honey lends its warming, sunny sweetness to a cup of tea or a glistening glaze for chicken wings. Of course, honey is not just a single flavor. A natural food product of honeybees, honey reflects its origins, whether the nectar was collected from a Scottish heather moor or from wildflowers growing on a California mountainside. Honey connoisseurs will happily pay a premium for a quality, single-source jar from an artisanal apiary, admiring the spectrum of honeyed colors from gold to deep mahogany, and their nuances of flavors in a way familiar to whisky lovers.

Honey and alcohol have shared a connection through drinks like mead, liqueurs, and whiskies flavored with honey. Even whiskies that don’t include honey can have flavors of it. Notes of honey often appear in whisky matured in American white oak and first-fill bourbon barrels, a result of sweet esters, such as beta-phenylethyl acetate, produced during fermentation. Sugars in the wood layers below the charred surface of the cask staves also contribute notes of honey. The aromatics can mingle with floral notes, light citrus, and vanilla. With practice, you can train your palate to distinguish honey styles, from light clover to deep buckwheat and rich and herbal manuka.

Single malts from Cardhu, Aberfeldy, and Dalwhinnie often show radiant honey characteristics, while the single malts from Clynelish Distillery, which appear in Johnnie Walker and Compass Box whiskies, offer a honeycomb waxiness in their mouthfeel. Why simply drink your whisky, when you can really make a miele of it?

Pick out the Honey Highlights

Meadow Blossom HoneyThe Dubliner: peach, butter toffee, fragrant floral notes

Heather HoneyDewar’s 12 year old: fudge, rich vanilla, sliced banana

BeeswaxClynelish 14 year old: floral, creamy, salty tang, gently smoky

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