The Nose Knows: Thoughts on Nosing Whisky

Whether you are drinking wine, beer or a spirit, getting a sense of the aroma of the beverage is a substantial part of the enjoyment of it. The smelling of the beverage is called nosing and in the wine and whisky industries, the ability to nose the components of the beverage is immensely important for the creation of the ultimate product as most wines and whiskies are not from a single barrel, but rather are "blended" into the ultimate product we consume to ensure a more consistent flavor. Yes, this is so for single malt whiskies, blended whiskies and even vintage whiskies that are not specified as being from a single barrel. In a word, yes, appreciating the aroma or nose of a spirit is a very important part of enjoying it. 

Is there a right way to nose a whisky?

I'm so glad you asked! As with everything in life, there is a difference of opinions on the subject. Richard "Mr. Nose" Paterson, the master blender for White & Mackay, whose holdings include most prominently the Dalmore and Jura distilleries, is one for swirling a whisky and gets his nose in the glass several times. Others say that one should not swirl a whisky as it is not a wine. I say do whatever the heck you wish to do, but there are a few notions to which I do ascribe greatly.

First is to always use a tulip shaped glass so the aromas are concentrated when you sniff the whisky as well as when you drink it. While a stemmed glass is perfectly fine for tasting and nosing, I like to employ the Glencairn glass, which was designed specifically for this exercise (nosing and tasting whisky). 

Second, leave the poured whisky still in the glass for your first nosings. Get a good few whiffs, first with your mouth open, which helps ensure you don't just get a big burst of alcohol right away and singe your nose and sinuses. 

Third, give the whisky a swirl. The aromas do waft up when the whisky is swirled and you should get in a few more whiffs to see how the physical movement has released the aromas and flavors flavors. 

Fourth, after you've nosed and tasted the whisky neat, add in a few drops of water to see how the whisky's aromas and flavors open up. Again, start without swirling and then progress to giving it a swirl. 

Finally, let your glass sit and dry after your tasting and go back to it hours later and take a deep noseful. You'll be amazed at how clearly you smell the malt as well as the cask influences (be it peaty, sweet, dry, floral, oily or something different). 

Remember there is no absolute "right way" to do this, though Mr. Paterson would tell you that if you hold the glass by the bulb, he will have to kill you. The trick is simply to enjoy the experience!