Nosing vs. Tasting: the disparity & the concequences
I’ve been wanting to write about this for some time now.
As most of you know, blenders and “whiskymakers” (whether they are creating a blended scotch, marrying casks together for a single malt bottling, or even sorting through casks for a single cask bottling) often go through hundreds of cask samples in a day, selecting their casks by NOSING the casks. They nose their samples because you can smell more than you can taste. But, I wonder: how many of then actually TASTE every one of the hundred (or hundreds) of casks samples they go through? That would be a lot more difficult, wouldn’t it?
Why do I ask this question? Well, if you nose and taste whisky long enough, you will discover that many (most?) times, a whisky will taste differently than it smells. More importantly, the aroma of a whisky is often better (or worse) than it tastes. I can think of dozens of whiskies (and whiskeys) that I reviewed this year alone that fall in this category.
Let’s take this one step further. While it’s true that you can smell more of your whisky than you can taste, the reality is that most of us buy a whisky to taste it, not to smell it. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw someone buy a whisky at a bar and just smell it. However, I regularly watch people buy a whisky and just drink it, without smelling it at all.
So, why does all this matter? Well, I wonder how many really great tasting whiskies are passed over by blenders and “whiskymakers” simply because they chose other cask samples that smelled better (but didn’t taste nearly as good, had they actually tasted the whisky)?
I am reminded of one master blender who asked me to help pick a single cask bottling for his distillery. Before I showed up, he told me that his assistant narrowed down the possible casks to 20 by nosing his way through the casks. Then, he narrowed the whiskies down to six (by nosing) which he put in front of me. He then asked me to pick the best one of the six, which I did. But, I wasn’t overly impressed with any of them. I had tasted better whiskies from this distillery on numerous occasions prior to this.
In fact, before we did this, he and I went through his warehouse where I nosed and TASTED a bunch of cask samples. One tasted stunning! I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Let’s pick this one! It TASTES great!”
But no, we later went back to his lab where I picked one of the six presented to me, all of which were inferior to that cask sample which I, to this day, cherish.
So, I wonder: how many great tasting whiskies get dumped into a blend, lost in the mix, because it didn’t smell as good as some other whisky? A sad thought indeed.