The Whisky Tasting Club The Whisky Tasting Club


Beauty is in the nose of the beholder When was the last time you thought about your nose? It's not something we consciously do is it? Maybe it was when you had a bug and felt congested or perhaps during a bout of hay fever? We only really notice our noses when they go wrong. Generally we are more at home in the realm of taste than smell. Every day we decide what to eat based largely on how it will taste. Language reflects this focus on taste. The term taste buds is commonly used but how often do you hear about olfactory receptors which are the nose's equivalent?

Some people are naturals, but these talented people are few and far between. They are the 'noses' of the wine industry, or the master distillers of the whisky industry. Do they have a greater cognitive capacity for recognising and naming aromas or were they blessed with more olfactory receptors. Who knows? Whether it is down to genetic potential, hard work or a mixture of the two, the majority of us don't come close to this level of skill. You can, however, still enjoy whisky without being such an expert and with small efforts made towards training your brain, nose and palate, your appreciation of this wonderful drink will grow.

Nosing basics Some simple terms to describe whisky aromas are given below. These are based on my observations of tasting whisky over the last few years and have reference to Charles MacLean's flavour wheel. Getting to know these aromas, and starting to recognise which you prefer in your whisky, is an important step towards discovering a wider range of malts suited to your palate.

CharacterAromas Comments Whiskies
Cereal BarleyMaltHorlicksWeetabix
The taste of whisky�s main ingredient malted barley. Often present in younger whiskies. St. George's Chapter 6
Citrus Lemon fruit or peelOrange fruit or peelMarmaladeLemongrass
Clean, zingy, light, refreshing and uplifting. Often found in younger whiskies. Glenmorangie
Fruity ApplesPears / peardrops, PineappleBananaCoconut
Malts have a huge range of fruity flavours. Speyside whiskies are often fruity. Springbank has a decidedly Coconut theme.
Floral Heather Herbs Freshly cut grass Leaves / plants Parma Violets
Found in lighter malts such as Lowlands. Swedish malt Mackmyra has a herbal note. Parma Violets are particularly evident in some older Bowmores.
Sweet Raisins / dried fruitMarzipanChocolateSherry trifle
Bourbon. Whisky matured in sherry or port casks.
Coastal Salty Seashore / seasprayThe smell of sea airSeaweed
Found in island or coastal whiskies, such as Islay and some Japanese. Highland Park; Talisker.
Peaty SmokyEarthyMedicinal / TCPDieselSmoked fish / bacon
Barley is dried on peat fires before being made into whisky. The phenolic compounds present account for the strong character of the whisky Islay � Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig.
Spicy WarmingGingerPepperyChilliNutmegAllspice
All indicate �new� wood. If you are a keen cook you will probably pick up on these fairly easily. Compass Box Spice Tree and Oak Cross; Glenlivet 15 French Oak

Vanilla/toffee/butterscotch aromas, often found in bourbon, indicate American white wood.

Aromas of pencil shavings/cork/mustiness can be sometimes found in older whiskies, they are caused by the age of the cask.

Whisky professionals tend to write in objective terms about all aspects of whisky, even the difficult ones, however as an amateur enthusiast I personally find some classes of aroma are more worthy of study than others. Whether you seek out or studiously avoid those listed below is up to you, I couldn�t possibly comment:

  • Cheese, yeast and gym shoes � skilled whisky makers will usually avoid the alcohol fractions giving rise to these aromas.
  • Sulphur and rubber - copper stills help to remove these characteristics but in certain whiskies some of these aromas remain.
  • The smell of nail varnish remover, paint or solvent can often be present on first nosing a high strength whisky. This can be taken down by the addition of a little water.
Looking for a whisky tasting as a gift? We have a wide range of whisky tastings and whisky gift packages to suit all tasting. Our whisky tastings contain four, five andsix whiskies on a theme, tasting notes and background information and start from £20 plus £2.95 Post and Packaging. All whisky tastings are especially selected by whisky journalist and author Dominic Roskrow. Each whisky tasting takes a theme or focuses on a particular distillery.