Why Does Whisky SmellFor those (like myself) who never studied chemistry the idea that a whisky smells of berries, oak or pear might seem confusing, it’s really not. I’ve even been asked if these whiskies are infused in the way that Vodka is, they’re not. The smell of berries, pear, oak or any other fragrance you can think to name comes from molecular compounds that being the resultant combination of two or more separate elements from the periodic table combine at the atomic level. These occur naturally in fruit and plants, they can be synthesised or they can be created as by-products of the distillation and maturation process. As often as not these are crafted by the master blender who pulls together a number of expressions to create their lines, which are then distributed either as age statement or as no age statement whiskies.
What’s in a RoseWhen you smell a Rose it fragrance may contain over 300 chemical compounds, yet only 4 compounds amounts for an incredible 90% of the smell of rose oil. A Whisky can contain over 400 chemical compounds, some will give of floral notes, others fruit, some are more musky, spiced or woody. When you enjoy the nose of a whisky you’re uncovering the subtleties of its own bouquet.
Whisky & AnosmiaNot everyone will agree what a wine, or whisky smells of, this is one of the most common reasons to dismiss the importance of the nose. However this is simple enough to explain, everyone has a specific anosmia (the inability to perceive a specific odour) but what’s more our olfactory ability varies based on temperature, what we’ve just eaten, whether or not we, smoke, have a cold coming on and our gender (women are believed to be more sensitive to olfactory clues). Despite this the way you taste the whisky is very dependent upon your sense of smell, which is why Master Blenders use a Sherry ‘sniffer’ Copita and why the Glencairn has become so popular.
How to Smell your WhiskyIt might sound obvious but because of the strength of your whisky (minimum 40% ABV) you can’t simply sniff in the way you would a glass of wine without overwhelming your olfactory nerve, after which its sensitivity will be dialled down for the next half hour. Take it easy, go slow and have some fun with it:
- Swirl your whisky to aerate releasing the aromas
- Lean towards the glass and sniff, slowly move closer until you are able to pick out individual scents
- Let your mind take you back, olfactory senses are great nostalgia trippers. Describe it as it strikes you, don’t worry about the language