- The color
- The smell (generally referred to as “the nose”)
- The feel in your mouth (the “body”)
- The taste (the “palate”)
- The after-taste (the “finish”)
Probably the hardest of the five for people to conquer is #2–the nose.
The first–and most overlooked–step is to use a proper glass. There are a few products on the market for you to consider, but they tend to be difficult to find and generally only available online. (See my previous posting on choosing glassware here.)
Once you have obtained a glass with some nosing potential, pour your glass.
I always recommend becoming comfortable with the smell of your whisky before sipping. I tend to almost tease myself with the aroma until I can no longer sense anything new coming from the scents. Personally, I swirl the whisky to agitate the liquor to fill the glass with a thick aroma now and then before re-administering my nose.
I go for several positions and inhalations, depending on the whisky. If the whisky is of a lighter nature (e.g. a lowland and some highlands), I will agitate the whisky thoroughly to make sure my nose has something to grab. I will then place my nose a little deeper into the glass than may seem appropriate looking to someone not sure as to what you are doing. “Is that guy trying to climb in that glass or is he trying to dip his nose into his drink?!“
For an island-style whisky (e.g. Islay, Skye, Orkney, or Jura), I will place my nose more toward the tip of the glass as in the picture above in this posting.
Next, breathe in slowly and steady. Did you get a good read? If you struggle to capture any scent, move in a little closer. In contrast, if you become startled by the strength, cringe from the burn, cough, or snort whisky up your nose like an addict with issues–you may be too close. You will want to back off a little and find the sweet spot for you. Certain whiskies, such as Lagavulin 16-year, will do crazy things to your nose no matter where you place it to your nostrils. Lagavulin 16-year will sting the back of your nose the first time you have at it. Quite intriguing, really!
What do you smell? Flowers? Vanilla? Camp fire? Caramel or toffee? Dirt? Orange rinds? Car exhaust? I have heard some strange descriptions in my time. Everyone seems to pull something different and draw their own opinions, that’s for certain. One person may smell honey and heather while another may smell fruit. When you read certain reference materials from major connoisseurs, you will be amazed at the wacky things they put down as smells coming from scotch whisky.
Everyone has their own snout and you are the only one who knows how to use yours. If you have a giant honker like me, make sure you put it to good use! I could probably have my nose in a glass of my Glenmorangie 18-year Extra Rare for an entire day without taking a single sip. Delightful!