Tannins in Whiskey - The Subtle Power behind Taste and Mouthfeel

When wine and whiskey connoisseurs talk about the structure, depth and complexity of a drink, tannins are often an essential part of the conversation. But what exactly are tannins and how do they affect our experience of different drinks?

What are Tannins?

Tannins are naturally occurring compounds found in a variety of plants, including grapes, tea leaves and various types of wood. These compounds are polyphenols, which have the ability to bind to proteins and other molecules in the mouth.

Influence of tannins

  1. Mouthfeel: A high concentration of tannins can give a feeling of roughness or dryness in the mouth. It is the sensation that makes the mouth feel as if it is contracting when drinking a particularly tannic wine or tea.

  2. Taste: Tannins can add some bitterness and astringency to beverages, which can contribute to the depth and complexity of flavor.

  3. Color: In wines, tannins can contribute to the stability and intensity of color, especially in red wines.

Tannins in Whiskey

While tannins are often associated with wine, they also play a role in the world of whisky. Tannins enter the whiskey from the wooden barrels during the aging process. Depending on the previous contents of the barrel, type of wood and how long the whiskey has been aged, the level of tannins can vary.

  • Age and Tannins: In general, older whiskeys will have a greater concentration of tannins as they have had more time to interact with the wood.

  • Importance of the barrel: The tannin content can also vary depending on the type of barrel. For example, a sherry cask will often contribute more tannins than a bourbon cask.


Tannins are powerful little compounds that have a big impact on our drinking experience. They are responsible for many of the subtle nuances we love in both wine and whiskey. Understanding tannins and their effects can enrich our understanding and enjoyment of many beverages, from the deepest red wine to the most complex single malt whiskey.

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