I’ve heard one man say that nosing a whisky is like chasing a woman. The expectation is usually far more fun than the reality. Of course, this was a burly and bald-headed old master distiller who always had the pallor of unremitting constipation. I took what he said with a grain of salt, seeing as I’m not nearly as cantankerous and can’t draw upon his experience of hounding handmaidens.
Therefore, I’ll tell you from my own practices, I find discovering the aromas in a dram to be equally as appealing as the actual taste. It’s like unwrapping a present. The bows, paper and colors can really add to the finished product.
As suggested in last week’s part one, find yourself a tulip shaped glass. And because not everyone cleans their glassware with equal care, rinse the glass out in warm water, running your CLEAN fingers around the rim and inside, ensuring you’re ridding the glass of any residual soap or contaminants that might affect the aromas and tastes. Lavender liquid detergent and whisky do not mix.
Pour a measure of the whisky into the glass, and if you’re feeling frivolous, wasteful, and as portentous as Richard Paterson (Master Blender), then violently throw that dram out of the glass and onto the floor. It’s flashy, gets the attention of everyone around you, suggests you’re either out of your mind or a serious professional, and according to Paterson, rids the glass of impurities. Maybe he even chants a spell over the second batch to be certain.
There is a difference of opinions regarding the next step. Some say swirl the liquid, others insist you keep it flat.
Those that swirl believe the whisky needs to aerate: to help the alcohol leave the glass—and it’s the alcohol that will carry the aromas up to your nose, so this is important.
Those who maintain the method of keeping it flat feel that whisky, being somewhere around 40% alcohol needs no help evaporating from the glass, and by swirling, you’re pushing all of the aromas out of the glass at once, making it more difficult to identify the individual nuances.
Most professionals agree that the alcohol leaves the liquid in layers, and each layer will reveal something different about the whisky. Feel free to give each method a try and see what works best for you.
This next step is one of my favorites and has truly helped me to distinguish scents that exist in the glass that I might not get otherwise.
Dip a finger into the liquid and rub the whisky onto the back of your hand. Wave your hand around in the air to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Now smell. The aromas are much clearer. If you detect leafy, grassy or malty notes, the whisky is probably fairly young. Darker scents, like chocolate and spices may signify something more mature.
Now again, we have some differing opinions for where to place your nose in order to obtain the best experience. Some distillers pass over the glass quickly, other’s try to insert their entire face. I find three deep sniffs in fairly quick succession has been a good rule for me to follow. The first sniff, your nose prickles with the recognition of alcohol. The second sniff usually identifies the sweet, and the third, fruit. It’s on the back of the third that I find other aromas: the smoke, peat or brine. It can be entirely different for you.
The challenge now is to identify those aroma components more specifically, if you want to train your nose.
Sweet, is a fairly broad term, but you can train yourself to recognize particular forms of sweet with practice. Sweet like chocolate? With dark notes coming through? Sweet like honey? Like vanilla? Like flowers? What kind of flowers?
The same goes for the other aromas. It doesn’t just have to be smoke. It could be smoke from tobacco, or tarry-like, or earthy peat. Dive in to the next layer and ask yourself what you smell. It’s probably not going to be identical to the person next to you.
If you’re really interested in pursuing the training of your nose further, you can buy a whisky nosing kit.
They’re marvelously helpful and great fun if you’ve got a small gathering of friends who want to enjoy the game of identifying/guessing what scents are in each small vial.
Most people have no idea how much their noses contribute to the enjoyment of food and drink. The nasal olfactory system should be applauded and held in high esteem for all that it provides.
I’m not saying you should make a sketch of your appendage to tape on the fridge, but don’t turn up your nose at recognizing its contribution. Every whisky connoisseur nose it’s important!