How do you write a review or tasting of a whisky in a blog? How do you describe what you nosed and taste? Is there a way to do this in an uniform manner?

Since this is a nerd blog the answer could be found in the, now withdrawn, ISO 6564:1985 Sensory analysis — Methodology — Flavour profile methods. This ISO standard is withdrawn, so it means it is no longer to be used, but it gives excellent insight in the way professional assessors used to write reports on that they smelled and tasted.

Part one

This part of the standard describes the Scope and Field of application. One of this is:

e) to provide a permanent record of the attributes of the product. 

This is the application a whisky reviewer seeks.

Part two and three

A reference is made to the standards that are needed in order to fully understand the content of this ISO standard. A reference is given too:

  • ISO 5492/1 to 6, Sensory analysis – Vocabulary
  • ISO 6656, Sensory analysis – Methodology – General guidance.

So apparently this standard uses “Vocabulary” that is described in the ISO 5492 and a link is made to the prescribed methodology one should follow in order to properly execute a “flavour profiling”. Read, in order to make proper tasting notes.

Part four

This part explains the Principle behind the intention of the standard. It is best said by the words of the standard itself.

The methods are based on the concept that flavour consists partly of identifiable olfactory and gustatory attributes and partly of an underlying complex of attributes not separately identifiable.

The methods consist of procedures for describing and assessing the flavour of a product in a reproducible way. The separate attributes contributing to the formation of the overall impression given by the product are identified and their intensity assessed in order to build up a description of the flavour of the product.

Part five

Part 5 says you should use the “apparatus” best suited for the task. In fact it says:

If standardized apparatus corresponds to the needs of this test, it shall be used.

This is of course the ISO Standardized Whisky Tasting Glass ISO 3591:1977

Part six

A reference is made to applicable ISO standards for taking samples of a product. These differ from product to product. In this case it is the cask or bottle you are trying to review.

Part Seven, General Test Requirements

This part is highly interesting. Why? Conditions are given for requirements that should be followed in order for the results (tasting notes) are deemed to be any good. Requirements are given for:

  • The Room. The room has to be in accordance to ISO 6658
  • The Assessors. Conditions that an assessor needs to full-fill are described in ISO 6658
  • The Training of the Assessors.
  • Number of Assessors.

The assessors chosen shall be trained to improve their ability to identify and assess the intensity of the attributes of the product. This training increases their familiarity with the terminology and ensures the repeatability of their results. The extent and duration of training vary according to the purpose of the panel. If the panel is non-specialist (capable of describing the flavour of any type of food product), lengthy training periods of up to l year or more may be required. Training for a specific type of food product can be accomplished in a much shorter time. New assessors shall receive training before they join a panel of selected assessors or experts that have already been trained.

So not just anybody can call themselves an assessor. Ya actually need training for such a thing. Who would have guessed!?

Part Eight, Test Methods

Two types of test methods are described in this standard. The “consensus method”  and the “independent method”. For sake of keeping this blog at least a bit on the short end lets skip the “consensus method”. There is probably no way that much bloggers will come together in a ISO 6658 tasting room.

Part Nine, Procedures

Regardless of whether the consensus method or an independent method is used for establishing the flavour profile of a product, it is necessary to have a period of orientation before the official paneI is brought together. This period comprises one or more information meetings in which the samples to be studied are examined. Similar products are introduced in order to establish a frame work for comparison. The assessors(and the panel leader in the case of the consensus method):

  • draw up a list of character notes for the sample;
  • decide on reference substances (pure compounds or natural products that elicit particular attributes);
  • define the vocabulary for describing the character notes. The panel also establishes the best method for presenting and examining the samples.

Oh Goody! According to the standard we bloggers need to meet, drink and familiarise ourselves with the product! That is the best excuse I have yet to tell to my wife! Sorry Dear! if I am to be a serious blogger, I have to drink! It says so in the Law.

The standard goes on to describe the needed steps to come to a sensory evaluation. Which are:

9.1 Components of the method

The following are necessary for carrying out a descriptive analysis of the flavour of a product :

  • a) identification of perceptible attributes;
  • b) determination of the order in which these attributes are perceived;
  • c) assessment of the degree of intensity of each attribute;
  • d) examination of after-taste and/or persistence;
  • e) assessment of overall impression.

9.1.1 Identification of character notes

The perceptible character notes are defined in descriptive or associative terms.

9.1.2 Determination of order of perception

The order in which the character notes appear and are perceived is recorded.

9.1.3 Assessment of intensity

The intensity (quality and/or duration) of each character note is determined either by the panel as a group (consensus method), or by the assessors working independently.

Various scales may be used for rating the intensity of the character notes; a few examples are given below.

Scala 

  • 0 = not present
  • 1 = just recognizable or threshold
  • 2 = weak
  • 3 = moderate
  • 4 = strong
  • 5 = very strong

The standard goes on to mention two more examples of a scale that can be used. One is by checking boxes on a scale from “weak” to “strong”. The other has the assessor make a mark along a 100 mm long line which also goes from “weak” to “Strong”.

9.1.4 Investigation of after-taste and/or determination of persistence

The presence of different character notes after the sample is swallowed [or ejected) is called after-taste. The continuing perception of the same flavour after the sample has been swallowed (or ejected) is called persistence (see ISO 5492). In some cases, the assessors maybe required to investigate the presence of after-taste, identifying and determining its intensity, or determining intensity and duration of persistence.

9.1.5 Assessment of overall impression

The overall impression is a general assessment of the product which takes into consideration the appropriateness of the character notes present, their intensity, identifiable background flavour and the blend of flavours. This overall impression is usually rated on a 3-point scale

  • 3 high
  • 2 medium
  • 1 low

In the consensus method, the panel agrees on an overall impression. In independent methods, each assessor rates the overall impression separately and the average is then calculated.

9.2.2 Reporting of data

The results reported are those of the group. They may be presented in the form of a table similar to the reply sheet used (see clause A.1) or presented graphically (see clause A.2).

Part Ten, Test Report

The test report shall include the following information

a) the problem posed;

b) the method used;

c) the method of preparation of the samples;

d) the conditions of test, and in particular

  • 1) the qualification of the assessors,
  • 2) the list and definitions of the characteristic properties,
  • 3) the list of reference substances used, if any,
  • 4) the scale used for determining intensity,
  • 5) the method used to analyse the results, if any;

e) the results obtained;

f) a reference to this International Standard.

Annex A

annex-a

Tasting Notes according to ISO 6564

You will probably recognise these spider diagrams. The intention of the ISO 6564 standard is to allow assessors to describe the components they identified and the intensity and the order.

In the whisky tasting notes attempts have been made to standardise these notes by using a format. The format that would apply would be a 150+ spider diagram based on the The Scotch Whisky Flavour wheel

img_0750

Since this would be totally unreadable you see versions of this diagram that simply list the main groups that are on the inner circle of the Flavour wheel. Groups like

  • Peat
  • Grainy
  • Fruity
  • Floral

You will notice that “off tastes”  are not presented in the flavour wheels given to you by some manufacturers in apps and on websites. I can understand this because having a visual representation that would always consist of notes one never (hopes) to have would be waste of space.

Does this mean the tasting notes of bloggers are all crap? Nah! It is good to know how the industry does the professional tasting notes, but in the harmless world off whisky blogging any form is all good and well.

If I ever blog about whisky notes in the future, I will use the ISO 6564 format for a report (or it’s replacement standard) just to bug the hell out of you guys reading this!

Just to get a feel here is my idea of an ISO 6564 report:

Notes on a non-existent dram called iLaddie.

a) the problem posed;

How does the new “iladdie” single malt Dutch Whisky Taste?

b) the method used;

The method used was sitting in a non ISO standard approved lounge bench, in a non ISO standard living room, in front of my TV, just after dinner, with the smell of fresh fries still fresh in my nose.

c) the method of preparation of the samples;

The sample needed no preparation. I just took the bottle from my bookcase and pored a dram in my ISO ISO 3591:1977 glass

d) the conditions of test, and in particular

  • 1) the qualification of the assessors,
    • i’m a, non ISO certified, blogger
  • 2) the list and definitions of the characteristic properties,
  • 3) the list of reference substances used, if any,
    • water
  • 4) the scale used for determining intensity,
    • ISO 6564, Scale A.
    • 0 = not present
    • 1 = just recognizable or threshold
    • 2 = weak
    • 3 = moderate
    • 4 = strong
    • 5 = very strong
  • 5) the method used to analyse the results, if any;

e) the results obtained;

  • a) identification of perceptible attributes;
    • A: Peaty 1. Burnt Ash
    • B: Grainy 2. Malt Wort
    • D: Fruity 4. Citrus Lemon
    • Etc
    • Etc
  • b) determination of the order in which these attributes are perceived;
    • A: Peaty 1. Burnt Ash
    • D: Fruity 4. Citrus Lemon
    • B: Grainy 2. Malt Wort
    • Etc
    • Etc
  • c) assessment of the degree of intensity of each attribute
    • A: Peaty 1. Burnt Ash : 5
    • B: Grainy 2. Malt Wort : 4 
    • D: Fruity 4. Citrus Lemon : 3
    • Etc : 1
    • Etc : 1
  • d) examination of after-taste and/or persistence;
    • L. Oily 1. Soapy Detergent
  • e) assessment of overall impression.
    • 1 Low
    • The Peaty, Fruity, Grainy “iladdie” 43 yo single malt is excellent. The problem is the way the Soapy Detergent aftertaste totally destroys the experience!

f) These tasting notes have been reported sorta according, but not quite, to the requirements requires in ISO 6564:1985.

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