A new flavour generation
Beautiful in their simplicity and colourful execution, the Society’s flavour profiles have many shades of brilliance. Our guardian of all brand-related matters, Helen Stewart, reveals where the inspiration came from and why we’re looking for your input into further developing our unique approach
At first glance, the 12 different categories provide another layer of information to help whisky lovers navigate the hundreds of Society bottlings released every year.
But delve a little deeper, and you’ll quickly discover they are a unique common language that draws us in and unites us as a whisky club. Similar to the Society’s green bottle and cask numbering system, they help remove preconceptions, giving just enough guidance to spark the imagination and get the creative juices flowing.
“Our flavour profiles are deliberately very broad strokes,” Euan Campbell, the Society’s spirits manager, explains.
“They can quickly help you pin down what you’re looking for, rather than trying to describe exactly what makes a whisky special, which is still the job of our Tasting Notes.”
With different strokes for different folks, the sheer diversity of the Society’s whisky is playfully brought to life through the spectrum of the flavour profiles, encouraging members to try whiskies that they may not have previously considered. And for members who are not such big fans of the Society’s evocative style of tasting notes, they offer an alternative approach to selecting their whisky.
As our approach to flavour profiling fast approaches its 10-year anniversary, it’s the perfect time for us to reflect on its beginnings, to explore some of the thinking and vision around its creation and to invite our members to get involved in shaping a new generation.
“Our flavour profiles quickly help you pin down what you’re looking for, rather than trying to describe exactly what makes a whisky special”
Euan Campbell, the Society’s spirits manager
RETURN TO THE ROOTS
The idea of agreeing a common language for describing character is, of course, nothing new. The standard flavour wheels and spider graphs widely used by blenders and other industry professionals had already been around for some time, but as Kai Ivalo, our spirits director, recalls they didn’t feel well suited for the Society.
“We knew that we needed an easy way of navigating our ever-growing cask range, but everything that we looked at lacked inspiration, seemed over complicated and didn’t make much sense for us,” he says.
At the same time, it was becoming more obvious that grouping the Society’s whisky by region wasn’t actually that useful for members.
“Because of the unique nature of single casks, we’ll very frequently bottle whiskies that don’t fit in with the regional stereotype, let alone matching that specific distillery’s standard profile,” says Euan.
“By grouping bottlings together under categories that actually tell you something about their character, we're also encouraging people to try whiskies from regions they may not have previously considered.”
“We knew that we needed an easy way of navigating our ever-growing cask range, but everything that we looked at lacked inspiration, seemed over complicated and didn’t make much sense for us”
Kai Ivalo, the Society’s spirits director
FROM SMALL SEEDS
The first seeds of flavour profiling were planted back in 2011, while as the UK brand manager, I was working on introducing the Society into our first network of partner bars within Hotel Du Vin.
They needed something simple that helped their bar staff and guests select and decipher our whisky. With a familiarity of flavour gained from their passion for wine, categorising our whisky in a similar way seemed like a logical progression.
Once we agreed on the decision to move away from the more traditional regional grouping to flavour, everything fell naturally and quickly into place. As it turned out, Euan had already created an early form of flavour profiling for our Member Services team to use. With this as a starting point, Robin Laing, our Tasting Panel chair and Whisky Bard wordsmith, helped develop the idea further. The Tasting Panel then did some fine tuning – and the 12 categories we know today came to fruition.
It’s true that flavour profiling was born from humble beginnings, but when we launched the system in 2012, we sensed that we had something mighty in the making, a real game-changer for the Society, our members and the wider whisky world.
Since then, our colourful device has become an iconic part of who we are and is wonderfully disruptive within a conventional whisky sea of muted browns and ambers. We’ve had so much fun playing with flavour pairings over the years, from unusual foods to personality, wildlife and most recently, music matches. And we know our members have enjoyed the journey too, as you can tell from Morten Ebessen’s artwork [click here to view].
Surya Bonta, meanwhile, is on a personal mission to create a collection of Society bottlings from across Scotland’s whisky regions with all 12 SMWS flavour profiles.
But…almost a decade on, we wanted to ask the question: where to next?
“Once we agreed on the decision to move away from the more traditional regional grouping to flavour, everything fell naturally and quickly into place”
Helen Stewart, the Society’s brand manager
WE NEED YOUR TASTE BUDS
Now is the chance to have your say on the future direction of our flavour profiles. We want to keep 12 categories, but are asking our members to get involved to help us develop the system. We’ve gathered some initial feedback from the Society’s teams and are proposing a few tweaks to make the tool even easier to use. Below is a quick reminder of the current flavour profile chart:
YOUNG & SPRITELY
SWEET, FRUITY & MELLOW
SPICY & SWEET
SPICY & DRY
DEEP, RICH & DRIED FRUITS
OLD & DIGNIFIED
LIGHT & DELICATE
JUICY, OAK & VANILLA
OILY & COASTAL
A PEATY ADJUSTMENT
We know some members believe you can never have enough peat but for our flavour profiles, we’re looking at changing the current three ‘peated’ profiles into two that better describe the different style of the whiskies. For example, ‘Peaty & Medicinal’ and ‘Peaty & Smoky’.
MISSING IN ACTION
The move to two ‘peated’ categories means we need a new flavour profile. Gather your thoughts on what may be missing from the current system – is there a flavour you often discover in our whisky that isn’t covered?
IT'S ALL IN THE NAME
We’re recommending changing the titles of four of our flavour profiles, making them more descriptive and easier to understand. We would love to hear your alternatives and rationale behind each suggestion. These will be shortlisted and put to a member vote to select any alterations.
Top Tip: make sure your suggestions are easy to understand and all about flavour. For example, Old & Dignified and Young & Spritely don’t give much away in terms of actual flavour.
Your taste matters more now than ever, so get involved in shaping a new generation of flavour profiling.
Ready to take our Taste Test?