The old sniffer is critical to enjoying a good whisky.
Which means if I’m down with a nasty cold, the last thing I would ever do is waste good whisky. As I know a stuffed up nose = missing 99% of a whisky.
As whisky tasting groups, we’ve experimented with various methods to discover different elements in a particular whisky.
Once, we tried a test with first tasting a vial of an unknown substance with our nose tightly plugged. Then we slowly unplugged our nose to utilize our sense of smell to appreciate how critical smell is to what we perceive as ‘taste’ – it makes a tremendous difference!
This is why it is critical when tasting whisky to not ‘cross contaminate’ scents by having flowers, perfumes, cooking smells in the same room.
PS I won’t tell you the punch line but you can read more here – “Taste Test!”
Then we met with an ‘expert’ (whisky tasting session with Jim Murray) who walked us through his ‘technique’ of sniffing by ‘dabbing’:
- Lift cover off glass and take the first fresh whiff – dabbing against an imaginary moustache both right then left nostril
- Cup glass with both hands to seal the whisky in and warm it against your body for approx. 5 – 10 mins
- Hold covered glass away from body, lift hand to let alcohol evaporate while drawing close to then nose again
- Take a tiny sip to rinse mouth – the ‘mouth wash’ step – and spit
- Then a few seconds later take another whiff right and left nostril followed immediately by a large sip – the 1st taste – roll it around in your mouth, chin up, opening and closing your mouth like a fish, then spit it out
- ‘Listen’ to the whisky to ‘hear’ what it tells you about its character
- After a few minutes, take a 2nd taste… again whiff, sip, tilt head back, open and close fish style, then spit out or… perhaps… if so inclined… swallow
- Again ‘listen’ to what the whisky ‘says’
- Repeat steps 2, 3, 7 and 8 as required…
And more recently, a young fellow crafting unique spirits in Michigan, introduced another technique – ‘mouth breathing’.
He shared that while yes… Traditionally one does a careful ’sniff’ for whisky, when it comes to the range of spirits he deals with, nothing beats a good ‘mouth breath’ to help discover elements beyond a civilized ‘sniff’… And at times, this technique works well with certain whiskies.
So… during one of our sessions, the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai experimented with the ‘mouth breathing’ approach to see if it garnered a different range of descriptions! (And anyone watching us would have been in splits laughing!)
Our conclusion? For more powerful whiskies, it can bring a different dimension. But it is quite useless with more nuanced notes that need a more delicate whiff to wind its way into our senses.
Any other nosing revelations you have discovered in your whisky adventures?
You can also find Whisky Lady in India on: