Whisky is often redolent of the warm scents of a neighborhood bakery. Whether it’s notes of baking cookies, buttery pastry, sweet sticky buns, or a toasty baguette, these heady aromas can transport us back to childhood memories of tasty treats. The way whisky can evoke aromas and flavors of fresh-baked goodies is understandable given that whisky is also made from grains and fermented with yeast. However, no single compound is responsible for the complex aromas and flavors of baked goods that often span sweetness, cereal notes, toast, and spices.
As with bread, the cereal variety weighs heavily on our impression of baked goods: Wheat whiskeys and bourbons with wheat may display a soft, bready character in contrast to the bold and spicy notes of rye. If higher kilning temperatures are used, cereals can offer more toasted and burnt bready notes as well as chocolate nuances.
Beyond grain, oak staves, especially those of used bourbon casks employed by distillers worldwide, contribute to the impression of baked delights, lending vanilla, burnt sugar, and toasty notes. Malty notes from maltol, 2– and 3–methyl butanal and other compounds, buttery or butterscotch flavors from diacetyl, vanilla notes from vanillin, and coconut flavors from oak lactones all contribute further in directing our specific impression of baked goods, from coconut macaroon to tarte Tatin.
Wood extractives are modified by further chemical reactions during maturation; the aromatic aldehyde coniferaldehyde, derived from the lignin in the oak, smells of graham crackers and the crust of freshly baked bread. Furfural yields an almond-like or marzipan flavor that reminds some of cake mix. Finally, cask staves can also produce spicy notes of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove that we strongly associate with holiday baked goods.
As you relive your baking memories, consider whether you are observing simple fresh bread, a sticky caramelized bun, a specific Danish dressed with baked fruits, or simply box-mix birthday cake. You might even reminisce about licking a spoon thick with cake or cookie batter—satisfying and comforting tasting experiences that leave you hungry for more.
Fresh Baked Flavors
Toast—Chicken Cock Double Barrel 10 year old: Cinnamon bread, toasted oak, rich chocolate
Bread—Strathcolm The Extra Special: Toasted crumpets, silky texture, vanilla sweetness
Pastry—Kinahan’s Small Batch: Apple Danish, vanilla extract, cocoa