Sunday, December 18, 2011

How to Nose Scotch Whisky

Here, for the Scotch novice, is a compendium of the best advice for getting the most out of smelling whisky. (And if you just said, "Er, isn't the point of whisky to drink it?", then you're obviously a novice. Experts don't drink whisky, they taste it.)
  1. Pour a wee dram of Scotch into a whisky tasting glass or a Glencairn glass or a sherry copita or a wine glass or just any old glass for crying out loud, you're smelling whisky, not performing brain surgery in space. (Note for Americans: 1 wee dram is approximately 3/4 of a slug.)
  2. Note the whisky's color.
  3. Note that the whisky's color tells you nothing about what it smells or tastes like. (You might wonder, then, what the point of noting the whisky's color is. Near as I can figure, it has something to do with testing your knowledge of sauternes.)
  4. Swirl the whisky around in the glass. Alternatively, don't swirl it; what is this, a wine tasting?
  5. If you are insane, wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, or employed as a Master Blender, and you are not in my house, you may at this point fling the whisky on the floor and return to Step 1.
  6. Admire the legs, if that's your thing.
  7. Place your nose inside, or just above, or a few inches above the glass. This is the critical step; make sure you do it properly.
  8. Take a sniff or take three sniffs or just breathe normally, with your mouth open or your mouth closed or your mouth disposed however you want.
  9. Think about the aromas you're smelling. (There is a common misperception among novices that the aromas smell like whisky, but with a little practice you'll get past this.)
  10. Try to describe the aromas in terms of other things you've smelled, like honey, or can imagine having smelled, like heather. Leave it to the experts to mention aromas of things no one has ever smelled, like "wet medicinal leather." If you're blocking, "spice" usually works. (Note: with Islay malts, it's customary to say "peat" instead of "dirt.")
There! Now you've just nosed Scotch. You've earned yourself a drink. And if you want to drink the whisky you've nosed, go ahead; you can learn how to taste it later.

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