How to Train Your Brain to Name the Aromas from Scotch Whisky
Nosing (smelling a glass of whisky) is a major part of experiencing a whisky. But making the connection between the smell and the name of that smell can be tricky, if not downright frustrating.
Identifying aromas takes practice. A nosing kit is a great way to get your smeller to detect a specific aroma. A nosing kit can help train your brain to pick up the aromas from your next dram. And I’m going to show you how to make your own nosing kit – DIY style.
Nosing the Whisky
Nosing a whisky is simply breathing in the aromas the dram has to offer. Scotch, like any other whiskies, imparts aromas that add to the flavor. What we smell of the whisky is responsible for about 80% of what we taste! And that makes sense, right? If you have a cold or your head’s clogged up, more times than not, your taste is off. Now you know why.
Smell is also tied to memory. For example, you may get fruit and spice from a dram, but that smell may well trigger a memory of your grandmother’s apple pie with tart apples and cinnamon. This connection enhances the whole experience.
Sometimes it’s difficult to put a name to what you are smelling. Here is where a nosing kit can help you associate what you are smelling to the name.
A few years ago, I got to experience the Master Blending Course at Glengoyne Distillery. Before we started mixing and blending, we stepped through a set of aroma samples to determine my ability to identify smells. The art of Blending has more to do with scent than taste.
This experience was so cool, I wondered how can I have this at home and use it to boost my ability to make the connection between the scent and the word.
Nosing kits are available and most are geared for specific scents related to wine or bourbon or other whiskies. Most are quite expensive ranging from $100 to almost $500. I thought it would be fun to put one together myself – DIY Style. For a total cost of $40 and some time.
Check out the description below for links to instructions and a master list of items
Items for DIY Whisky Nosing Kit
- 24 Small Jars/Bottles with Lids – I ordered these Amazon for $14. I like the dark glass so I can’t tell what is inside! (Affiliate Link)
- Numbered Labels: 2 sets, 1-24
- Cotton Balls
- Chop stick
- Emory board (to help open up those aroma)
- Box or storage bin
- Master List of Aroma Items – Download PDF HERE!
- Nosing Test Form – Download PDF HERE!
- Variety of Spices and Aroma Items
Here is my list but the sky is the limit – Keep in mind, you may have many of these items in your kitchen or bathroom. Anything else, you can source.
- Almond Extract
- Black Pepper
- Burnt Matches
- Cacao Nibs/ Cocoa
- Dried Roses/Flowers
- Ginger Root
- Iodine / Band-aid
- Liquid Smoke
- Orange Peel
We have a wonderful store in Baton Rouge – Red Stick Spice where they sell spices in bulk. The staff was super helpful and fine with me buy a tiny amount of a lot of spices. Check for your local spice store.
Assembling the Kit
- With the Master List of Aroma Items, it’s time to assign a number to each. The list includes space for you to add other items as you wish. I like to mix things up so I won
’t remember the order later.
- Next, take your labels and place one set on all the bottle caps, and another corresponding number on the bottom of the bottle. This will help keep order in case lids get switched around by mistake.
- Assembly is pretty straight forward… Following your master chart, place a bit of cotton in the bottle, then place your scented item or drop the scented oil onto the cotton. Top it off with another tiny bit of cotton so you can’t see what is in the bottle. This makes it a true blind challenge.
- Keep going until you are All done. You can store the bottles in the box they came in or spring for something fancier.
QUESTION??? – Do you struggle identifying aromas in your whisky? Leave a comment and your thoughts on this project or ways you’ve built up your nosing skills.
Using the Nosing Kit to Learn Aromas
This kit is together – How do we use it? I’ve created another PDF of a Nosing Test Form you can download. Check the description below for the links.
- I prefer to make it open ended guessing – no multiple choice. Simply list 1- 24 with a blank space to write down what you are smelling or use the Nosing Test Form.
- Go through each bottle and record your answers. If you aren’t quite sure, skip it and come back to it later. If you feel your nose is getting clouded, take a whiff of
your arm to reset your sniffer.
- All done? Time to check your guesses to the master list. How did you do? Which scents tripped you up? Maybe those are the ones to concentrate on?
- Now, pour a dram and read the tasting notes. But understand, aromas and taste are personal and subjective. What one person writes in their tasting notes should NEVER dictate what you are experiencing.
Just as one person may love broccoli and another hate it – our taste is our own.
- Is there something the reviewer is getting that you are not? Is that aroma in your new kit? If so, find that scent and work between the dram and the sample to see how the noted aroma correlates. Maybe the notes say lime peel, can you detect any kind of citrus? Going to the Orange Peel sample will help you get in the ball park.