Mechanics of Taste

I have to admit that this is a tough thing to write about. The physiology of taste is something that is very personal, and tied to the sense of smell as well. When you drink whisky, those senses plus the “feel” in the mouth are all involved, and even sight.

I am tasting Port Charlotte PC6 “Cuairt Beatha” now, and it’s much more mellow than the PC5, which was like a wild winter storm in comparison. Not that I didn’t like it. 🙂 I’m conserving my PC5, else I’d do a side-by-side tasting right now. The first sense involved when drinking whisky is olfactory: The smell is not just peaty. There is a nice subtle sweetness, almost brown sugar, in the nose, and as you may know, a lot of alcohol. It’s 61.6% ABV, so I added a splash of water.

Anyway, when I taste it, I swirl it around in my whole mouth. There are taste buds all around the inside of your mouth, even though most by far are on the tongue. After the initial “burn” of the alcohol, there is a nice sense of sherry and bourbon oak notes, undercurrents of vanilla and caramel, that evolve into dark and/or dried fruits like plums, raisins, and I definitely get brown sugar. The sensations evolve across the tongue as well. I get the sweetness from different parts and as the flavor profile evolves, I am left with the afterglow of the fruit and oak notes.

The nice final parting shot comes from the vapors coating the throat that you can smell when you exhale. It’s a wonderful experience and it involves so many senses. I suppose the one sense I didn’t mention is sight. One of the wonderful things is the anticipation of the coming smell and taste, and it starts when you look at the bottle. Before I had even opened it I was able to tell — just by the color — that this was aged in Sherry butts. It’s much redder than whisky that’s aged in ex-bourbon barrels. [Ohh…nice — just got a black cherry sensation!]

Anyway, the whisky experience starts as soon as you heft the bottle out of the can and pull out the cork. It’s a multi-sensory experience and it involves, I would presume, a lot of the brain running in parallel. I combine what I sense with what I know about who made it, where it came from, and if I have ever visited, those memories as well. After all that, it’s good for you, too! A dram a day is definitely very good for the health.

BTW, Cuiart Beatha is Scottish Gaelic for “Walk of Life” — and that word “Beatha” is also used in the phrase Uisge Beatha, which means “Water of Life” and Uisge is the source of the word “whisky.” It’s essentially how Uisge is pronounced. Not being a Scot, I’ll never be able to modulate it exactly correctly.

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