When you’re tasting whisky, nosing, the act of bringing your whisky to your nose and taking a sniff, is a step that a lot of people skip, but they shouldn’t. Smelling your booze can help you pick out flavors and aromas that you won’t be able to detect through sipping alone. It’s an important part of the process.
I recently chatted with Macallan Brand Ambassador Charlie Whitfield about the spirit, and how people should be tasting their whisky. During our conversation, he offered a number of great suggestions (likely future Lifehacker articles), but he also offered a pretty unique tip for learning to nose better, using your hand.
“Nosing is probably where you’re going to find out the most about the different aromas and flavors in the whisky,” Whitfield says. His trick involves putting your finger in the glass to get a few drops of whiskey on your finger, and then rubbing your finger on the back of your hand – hard.
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“Basically what you’re doing is you’re rubbing off the alcohol,” he says. “If you then smell the back of your hand, you’ll actually pick up oaky, sweet, fruity flavors, depending on which whisky it is. It’s basically deconstructing the whisky – you’ve rubbed off the alcohol leaving all the flavor compounds behind on your hand.”
He says that once you do that, you’ll likely be able to smell the flavors in the whisky that might have been covered up by the alcohol when you were smelling it in the glass. And when you go to sip the whisky again, you’ll have those flavors in mind and you’ll be able to pick them out much easier.
For instance, if you’re sniffing a Macallan Double Cask 12, you might get hints of butterscotch, toffee apple, oak, vanilla custard, or candied orange on the nose.
When you do sniff that glass, Whitfield suggests doing so slowly rather than just shoving your face in.
“I’d always recommend slowly bringing the glass towards your nose until you can start noticing some of those aromas and flavors,” he says. “I always recommend not to put your nose straight down into the bottom of the glass like you might with a wine obviously because of the alcohol strength. When you do that, you might sort of burn off all your nasal hairs — you probably won’t be able to smell things for the rest of the day because you’ll just feel that alcohol burn straight up your nose.”