PROFESSOR BARRY SMITH
For our latest Yearbook, the founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the University of London gave us some fascinating insights into the mysteries of aroma. Professor Barry Smith talked about why blending shapes so much of what we enjoy in flavour, and debunked the age-old myth of the superior single malt – with a splash of science.
BLENDING CAN BE FOUND IN UNEXPECTED PLACES
“The majority of single malts are blends of different casks. Blending evens things out. It’s the pursuit of balance. Some of the most famous wines in the world are blends – Bordeaux is a mixture of grape varieties, and Champagne too is a mixture. Always.”
Our senses don’t distinguish between blends and single malts.
“The results of scientific studies with single malt versus blended Scotch whisky have repeatedly concluded there is no essential difference in the perception between a well-made single malt and well-made blends. Even when tested in different countries with differing levels of familiarity and expertise, the results and conclusions come back the same. When asked to sort whiskies from various Scotch categories blindly, tasters made sensible groupings but no one divided them into blends and single malts.”
THE BLENDING OF AROMAS IS STILL A MYSTERY
“We still don’t understand the science behind the merging of compounds into a single, unified aroma. A single molecule, such as benzaldehyde, can smell like a mixture of cherry and almond, whereas collections of more than 800 molecules can smell like a single thing: coffee. For now, at least, the blending of aromas and flavours still relies on art as well as science.”
Look out for subtle almond notes in an upcoming Compass Box Limited Edition. Just bear in mind that benzaldehyde won’t be listed on the back label.
You can hear more from Professor Smith in a five-part radio documentary The Art and Science of Blending, available now on the BBC.
Professor Barry Smith is director of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, and the founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses.