More Than Just A Sip
When I was starting to learn everything about the wide world of whiskey, one area that I was very insecure and did not have much knowledge to say about was the nosing or smelling of notes in whisky. Well it does make sense that in order to dig down and understand and enjoy a dram of whiskey, no matter what type, is that fact that our noses play an important role in the experience.
Even science breaks down some aspects for us that create a wonderful tasting experience. When we smell something, our brain sends messages that in return help us begin anticipating that wonderful item. Well, when we start anticipating such as Maslow’s dog every time the bell rang, our brain reaction is to begin creating saliva that coats our tongues. This saliva actually enhances and increases our ability to taste which in return helps us identify flavors that we enjoy. Bam…there you have it.
“I remember the smell of the fresh apple pie and cobbler that my mom would cook.
cinnamon, sugar, sweet and tart apples.
It filled the room with smells and memories of growing up.
I forgot how much I loved these smells until they were gone.”
Studies show us that 90% of what we taste is actually smell. Now it is connecting with me. When I am taking a shot of the cheapest alcohol I can buy, I am not looking for something that is going to smell and taste good, and in return trigger memories and experience from my past. I am looking for something that I can chug down plugging my nose and ice-cold. Well, college is over my friends. Whiskey is more than that and it deserves and seeks to share all the great treasures it hides. So how do we do it? How do I nose a whiskey and not look like a fool? Let’s start.
What do I drink Whiskey Out Of?
Well, the answer to that is anything really. However, are you looking to shoot some cheap stuff down or are you looking to expand your knowledge and experience with what whiskey has to offer you? If it is of the lather then there are some things you might want to stick to. If you go to a higher end or more established distillery and tasting then you might notice they tend to use these small little glasses that are pear or tulip shaped. Those are called Glencairn glasses. You might see very small what appear to be wine glasses or even regular type wine glasses. Those all work great. I prefer the Glencairn and as you wonder why, let me share a few reasons.
- The are wider at the bottom which allows the person drinking to be able to look at the whiskey and get oxygen to it. You can see the fine color from a light gold to a straw yellow or even orange and amber depending on the aging and barrels.
- The tulip shape allows the drinker to put their nose over the rim as it funnels the aromas to your nose getting all those major notes and primary aromas.
- It allows you to swirl the whiskey, not that it is like wine and the chemical make up changes when oxygen is added, but to allow you to swirl and cause evaporation which in return will help release a few notes that are complex in the whisky.
So, I understand when you go to a tasting and you might see the little plastic cups you would see samples in. They are cheap and easy, however, it really does change the whiskey when you can smell and experience using one of your God-given senses which you have for a reason. You can use tumbler glasses or even a regular mug, however, if you really want to experience a
whiskey try to use a Glencairn, wine or sherry glass. They are built to push the aromas to the drinker and enhance the experience.
It’s In My Glass, What Should I Be Smelling?
We are moving along our nosing journey friends and now comes the really intimidating part. Heck, I would sit there and watch the cooking network or listen to an experiences chef just break apart these smells and flavors and just wonder, “how in the world did they get that flavor, it’s not even in the recipe?” I myself, I am not going to sit here and say that I have had this fantastic, complex, and world renown palate since birth. In fact, my pallet is not very good at all, however it has grown and become trained and is increasing my love of whiskey every time.
When I was younger eating Top Ramen, French Toast, and my parent’s SH%$ on a shingle, it was about being full not enjoying my meal. As I grew up, it was about getting drunk, not enjoying alcohol as a social experience. Today, it is about enjoying everything my meals and drinks have to offer with others as much as possible.
There are 32 primary aromas and many times depending on the whiskey, were it is from, what grain (corn, wheat, barley, or rye), and how it is aged or not aged will give you different notes.
Imagine this, you bring the glass up to your nose, take several smaller whiffs almost as if you are meeting someone for the first time. On whiff one, “hello?“, whiff two “how are you?“, whiff three “just fine and thank you.” giving you time to get that first impression. Building that relationship and enjoying the conversation. Then you begin to ask yourself….What are those smells?
I almost smell a smoke….could this be from the charred barrel that it aged three years in?
I think that is vanilla or caramel…..this must be that it is from a new american oak jut full of vanilla tannin (chemicals in oak that taste like vanilla)
I smell fruit, almost like dried fruit and cherries….since the scotch whiskey was aged in a Cherry Cask (distilled wine) you would think aha!!
We all get those first impressions and sometimes we smell different things just as much as we taste different things. That’s alright and that is what makes this experience with others so much better. The smelling of whiskey whether it be by yourself or with others, should be an experience that is ENGAGING, INTRIGUING, AND POSITIVE.
As you pour that dram of whiskey for the first time, let it set in the glass to open up. Remember it has been sitting in a cask and bottle for perhaps a long time. Let it open up and get ready to let your senses have an experience.
Somebody Said Something About Water?
With whisky you might have heard people ask for their glass in different ways. Some like it neat (just the whiskey alone by itself in that glass), or perhaps on the rocks (added to a single large cube or cubes of ice) and with water (with just a drop or two of water and whiskey)
Although this is affects how the whiskey tastes, it affects the smells and aromas and I will share why many like their with a splash of distilled bottled water at room temperature. What does the water do you might be thinking?
In whiskey there are molecule in it, specifically two called esters and aldehydes. These components create complex flavor and smells and science will kick in. I am just wondering why this was never taught in my chemistry 101 glass, I may have done a lot better than the “C” that I earned during college. When you add water, it disrupts these molecules and causes them to spread apart. When those molecules spread apart, it then releases more
aromas. They either become stronger or allows you to find some of those hard more complex smells and tastes. Get this, when that person gets a whiskey and wants it on ice, did you know that the cold from the ice will cause those molecules to huddle together like two frozen people lost in the snow? That causes those smells and flavors to be more dulled and hard to experience. This would be great for the cheap stuff I guess.
It is really great, next time try this little practice. Take a smell of that dram of whiskey and get those notes and impressions. Then add a drop or two of distilled room temperature water and then take it back up to your nose and……….it is a world of difference. Who knew that a little water would do this?
Taking That First Step
So, take that first step and understanding how nosing, enjoying, and connecting with the specific notes and aromas that whisky has to offer.
As I share my experiences and what I have learned with you, I hope that you begin to understand and enjoy everything whiskey has to offer than just alcohol.
Sometimes, it is simple taking a risk and finding a bottle of Scotch or other whiskey and practicing and learning. Although it is much more enjoyable with others, it is pretty darn fun and great alone as well.