Take Tasting Notes With A Pinch of Bananas

Bowmore 15 At Cadenhead’s all of our whiskies come with tasting notes on the back label but, actually, we urge that you don’t get too hung up on tasting notes. Instead, use them as a guideline rather than as a cast iron fact, if our tasting notes states “Carrot Cake” and you can’t detect carrot cake that doesn’t mean that we are correct and you are wrong!  We are all built differently and will detect smells in different ways and the sense of smell in particular is the best sense we have for recalling memories. Memories are obviously personal so therefore we will all have developed our sense of smell in different ways.  I always say a smell can transport you to a particular place or time in your life and that, therefore, is very personal to you so when it comes to writing tasting notes you cannot be wrong. If you smell wet dog then you smell wet dog and no one can tell you are wrong. Okay, maybe you can be wrong if you have a bourbon cask Auchentoshan and you say it is the heaviest peated, most sherried whisky in the world –  then you are wrong but the main, fundamental point is that all you really need to know about a whisky is if YOU like it or not – not whether somebody else likes it.

To add to that, your sense of smell is developed as you grow up, I grew up (well, I got older) on a farm and therefore a lot of my personal tasting notes are quite farmyard like; such as wet sheep or warm cows but these are things that don’t particularly help to sell whisky so don’t expect to see these words on a label any time soon. The notes on the back of the bottle are much more of an interpretation of what we have tasted with a bit of a twist to make things sound a bit more palatable i.e. “damp earth” sounds much less palatable than “dunnage warehouse” for some bizarre reason. Because, of course, we all love to eat dunnage warehouses! ( I hope you get what I mean).

So in general we always say to take our tasting notes with a pinch of salt.  This is why, when possible, I like to write our tasting notes along with Jenna and Cameron so that we have three people’s input into them so that we don’t end up just using the same tasting notes over and over again. Tasting with other people helps draw out different notes or can help when you know what you are tasting but can’t quite name it.  That said, anyone who was at our open day tasting last year will remember that we found Banana in pretty much all of the whiskies we tried that day – albeit in different forms, banana, banana loaf and dried bananas. What a sophisticated bunch we are!

This leads me on to whisky reviews and how to interpret them.  We are very lucky at Cadenheads in that we tend to get much more good reviews that we get poor ones. With that said, I don’t mind the odd bad review as it makes the good ones look better and it can show that it is purely someones genuine personal opinion which is worth a lot more than some blogs who only review things that score highly. Or score highly in order to get more free samples!

What I suggest that you should do is find a reviewer that has a similar taste profile to you and actually read the reviews rather than just looking at the scores.  Being honest I think I have a similar palate to Serge at Whiskyfun – in that we both tend to like the same styles of whiskies so therefore there is a higher chance of him giving us good scores – where as Dave Broom obviously doesn’t know anything about whisky… only joking!  Actually, what I mean is that it is interesting to compare reviews and actually read them rather than just look at the scores.  One in particular came out today (16/3/18) on Scotchwhisky.com about our recent Authentic Collection Bowmore 15yo.  Serge loved it and gave it 92 points but Dave gave it 77. Does that mean one is right and one is wrong?  No, everyone is entitled to their views on a whisky and that is what makes whisky so special – we all like different things otherwise whisky would be pretty boring.  For the benefit of doubt I am sure I could find whiskies of ours that Dave loves and Serge doesn’t – I am merely trying to highlight how different people’s views can be on tasting notes and to therefore take the notes on the back of our bottles as a guideline rather than fact!

So lets take a look at three different tasting notes for the same whisky:


Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection Bowmore 2002 15yo 54.3%

Tasting Notes on the label:

Bowmore 15yo back label




Serge’s notes – Whiskyfun.com


Whiskyfun.com Bowmore 15



Dave Broom Notes:  Scotchwhisky.com


Bowmore 15 scotchwhisky.com


The great thing about this is that these are three completely different interpretations of the same whisky yet there are also a lot of similarities, Cigar and Cigar boxes, peppermint and menthol along with references to being bone-dry and brine.  So it just shows us that although tasting notes can appear completely different from each other if you just look at scores there can be lots of similarities if you actually read the notes.  So, all in all, the lesson from this blog post is: like what you like, find which reviewers you can connect with with a similar palate but, most of all, look past the scores and read the actual reviews to see if the whisky is something you may like.

Unless Serge gives it 90 points or more!

Now I am off to find some more bananas in a whisky!

Mark Watt


Mark Watt

Mark is the Director of Sales for WM Cadenhead, responsible for cask management and selection as well as our continuous sales strategy. He has worked for the company since July 2012 having previously been involved in the industry throughout his working life. He can proudly state that every job he has ever had has been whisky related; from the bar in the Craigellachie Hotel to a variety of retailers through to his current job. Mark has seen all sides of the industry.

3 thoughts on “Take Tasting Notes With A Pinch of Bananas

  1. Mark,
    I totally agree with your comments on tasting notes and scores. There are so many factors that affect our impressions of a whisky beyond our native ability to detect aromas and flavours. Things like time of day, what food was eaten beforehand and when, the environment if which the dram was tasted – inside, outside, temperature, room odours, alone or with friends, etc. Finally, label expectations which can influence our tasting notes and scores, need to be factored in. Hence the beauty and value of blind whisky tastings.

    For example, over time I found a 5 point difference in the score of the Oban 14 Years Old; 80 to 85. And, it was from the same bottle.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments.


  2. Your comment “the sense of smell in particular is the best sense we have for recalling memories.” is probably why I never got that aroma of “snuggling with a new ewe” as a tasting note that the Scottish Highlands whisky writer got.


  3. “damp earth” sounds much less palatable than “dunnage warehouse” for some bizarre reason. Because, of course, we all love to eat dunnage warehouses!

    That is disregarding the fact that dunnage warehouses smell of damp earth AND lichen on staves AND alcohol vapours AND humid rocks AND… 😉
    I think it depends whom you are talking to and where they are in their whisky journey, really. A dunnage warehouse speaks more to me than damp earth. I get your point, though.

    Good article.

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