Whisky Nosing Kits, flavour wheels and tasting notes

As a beginner tasting notes can seem rather daunting, as well as utterly absurd, casting my mind back to my own beginnings I often wondered how anyone could detect notes of nutmeg, rose or prune on their favourite dram of whisky. Over time I came to realise that the answer is simple: practice makes perfect, though the right glass can help. While odds are most of us will never be able to take on the role of a master blender everyone can learn to smell. Sensory abilities are best practiced by practicing recognizing and associating them with so-called key flavors. Sniffing is nothing more than learning a vocabulary. you sensoric ability can be finessed and checked, and tested again and again until picking out the notes is as easy as reading music. For those not prepared to spend the time to learn their are nosing kits, flavour wheels, and tasting books to consider. The real question is if they’re worth it, lets consider each in turn.

Are whisky nosing kits worth the money?

Generally not! Nosing kits are a fantastic way of training your nose however they are unfortunately priced out of the reach of the average whisky drinker. I have the standard 24 bottle nosing kit which will set you back nearly £100. Mine contains:
  1. Alcohol
  2. Balsamic (Vanilla)
  3. Balsamic (Hay)
  4. Buttery
  5. Caramel
  6. Citrus
  7. Decay
  8. Ethereal
  9. Earthy
  10. Floral (Rose Water)
  11. Floral (Carnation)
  12. Fruity
  13. Cut Grass
  14. Malty
  15. Medicinal
  16. Nutty
  17. Peaty
  18. Phenolic
  19. Smoky
  20. Solventy
  21. Sherry
  22. Spicy
  23. Spirituous
  24. Woody
These are all smells I’ve found in my whisky except for decay. Why is this here? Why is there a strange smell of death coming from that cupboard john? Ultimately you’re buying a kit of essential oils. Each scent is something you can find individually, or create yourself for a fraction of the cost. If you can afford one then great, but for the average drinker you’re probably better finding the bottles individually or pursuing one of the other options. That said if you’re looking for a great gift for a whisky fan these kits really do offer hours of fun…..

Flavour wheels

If you’re not familiar with it I highly recommend the “Nosing and Tasting Course” series of articles by Charles Maclean, first published in whisky magazines, republished here for reference as the originals are deleted. The whisky flavour wheel Whisky colour Although the use of caramel colour essentially renders the colour bar worthless for most entry level bottles the flavour wheel is something I highly recommend to any new whisky drinker as it gives a range of suggestions without being too directive.

Tasting Notes

Tasting notes are something of a mixed bag, there is for example the often lambasted man in the hat, there are regular whisky magazines and a wealth of websites out there offering reviews. They can be very informative if you’re not initially sure what to look for, unfortunately every tasting note is simply someone else’s opinion. Your olfactory senses may be better, worse or simply different to the person leaving the notes. They certainly wont share your association of memory and smell, and you may not even be able to smell the same notes, as everyone has a specific anosmia (inability to perceive a specific odour).  

Practice Makes Perfect

The only thing you need to develop your sense of smell is time and practice, ultimately you might find other peoples reviews helpful or you might find enjoy compare the scents of a nosing kit to your favourite dram. In this reviewers opinion the best thing to do is keep your money in your pocket until you’re ready to buy your next whisky, and if you’re struggling to find the vocabulary then you’ve always got the flavour wheel to fall back on.