Train your nose…
Your nose is amazing.. and its complex..
Your nose is absolutely amazing and its your biggest asset when to comes to appreciating whiskey. It may surprise some people when I say that 70% of your whiskey imbibing experience will be through your olfactory sensory system rather than your taste buds. This is because even when you taste whiskey your olfactory sensors are exposed through a passage at the rear of your throat. As you “chew” and swallow your whiskey aroma compounds are released that pass through this second access to your 30 million olfactory sensors. That’s why when your nose is completely blocked you are not able to taste properly, if at all.
Smelling is also relative and subjective to each person. Each specific aroma we sense and more importantly its individual component molecules are received in your brain in receptors that interpret what it is that we are smelling, but no two people will have the same interpretation. Differences in aroma recognition can be due to our personal experiences, it can be due to physical differences in our olfactory systems, our brains and its interpretation process.
Another complicating factor is that there are far more aroma components or congeners in whiskey that can be identified by our interpretation system and even nosing experts are only detecting a percentage of the individual specific odours from the glass (best noses are getting only 30-40%). Some people will (through practice, particular olfactory physical characteristics and /or years of training) be able to identify a broader range of individual aromas and and have a more sensitive appreciation for the differences within each whiskey and between different whiskies.
We’ve all read the very flowery and /or specific nosing notes from whiskey nosing experts who seem to be able to tell the different nosing notes between a mandarin orange and a clementine and can detect the different degrees of ripeness of white pear type aromas in the whiskey!
I definitely get Methyl Butyrate from this whiskey…
Another interesting point, which is probably obvious but worth noting, is that all those smells that come from the whiskey has to come from either the ingredients, the result of the distilling process and /or the aging / maturing/ finishing process. Taking that into account how do we get Pear, Apples, Oranges, Pineapple, Chocolate, Toffee and many other aromas from whiskey? As we think through the various inputs and processes, at what point did pear get added into the whiskey? Of course the answer is that it did not, its simply the condensation product of acetic acid and pentanol producing an ester called Amylacetate which is a compound that is interpreted by you in your brain as a predominant pear smell.
Why is this important? the detailed list a of chemical components and the chemical reaction process is really only important to a whiskey drinker who is really nerdy about whiskey but at headline level it is important to understand the fact that it is chemical components that we are smelling. This gets more interesting if you get yourself a flavour wheel and you start to group the compound outputs into loose categories that match up to each general style and type of whiskey
Apart from getting flavour wheel are there ways of getting better at identifying nosing notes in your whiskey? the ideas listed below may help, always remembering what we’ve stressed above, and that is each person interprets smells differently and some people are blessed with a “better” nose than others but you can improve yours dramatically.. trust me.
You cant smell kumquat from your whiskey glass if you’ve never smelt a kumquat.
- Learn how to nose whiskey
- Visit your spice cupboard and the garden… Smell more… seek answers to that question “what is that smell?”
- Get yourself a whiskey flavour wheel.
- identify MAIN characteristic smells in different styles , finishes and brands of whiskey.
- DOCUMENT your answer to that question “what am I smelling?” each time.
Over the series .. Whiskey Tasting – Quick Thoughts we will be discussing each of these 5 and many other thoughts on the fascinating world of whiskey appreciation