Updated: Nov 1, 2018
Charles MacLean is a worldwide recognized authority on whisky. And he rocks the three M's like nobody's business: Malt, Mustache and Monocle. With all the deference due Mr. MacLean's well earned stature in the whisky industry, you and he have the same prerequisite needed to become a whisky "expert": a nose.
I'm not by any means attempting to be glib. Nosing is a key component in assessing and enjoying your whisky. Now, before we put the cart before the proverbial horse, let's just back up a bit. We aren't experts overnight. Expertise starts with curiosity, which leads to discovery, which leads to wanting to know more, which eventuall leads you to telling others about what you know.
And that leads us back to your nose. True, enjoying whisky is ultimately about tasting but there again, that's aided with - yup - your proboscis. However, like athletes who train, you need to train your nose (and naturally your taste buds).
Read. There's no shortage of finding articles online or books available on nosing, the science of whisky in relation to scents and more. (We've compiled some suggestions for you in our aptly named "suggestions" portion of our blog). David Broom even has created "flavour camps" for labeling the different types of whisky aromas.
Whiskey wheels. At first, you may not be able to identify what you're smelling or more accurately, you can't quite put your finger on it. These whisky wheels help break down the overall aroma into more specific scents.
Check out your spice rack and pantry. Seriously. Smell the different spices, food items in your kitchen. Yeah, it sounds weird and looks weird to the person who sees someone smelling food items but it's a more budget friendly way of training your nose to various scents. You can also visit a grocery store, florist and bulk food store as well; but, if you think smelling stuff in your kitchen is odd... this may up your "weird" factor substantially.
Go to a whisky tasting. Whisky clubs in your area hold these regularly. Also, look for the yearly events. These often hold "master classes" where you get walked through the process of nosing.
Take a course. Whisky right now is booming and there are many options for you to take a whisky class. (How cool is that?) Chances are, there's a whisky sommelier type program being offered in your city. Another option is the whisky ambassador program, where you can become an accredited scotch whisky ambassador.
Write it down. Start with your favourite whisky and write down what you're nosing and tasting. True, distillers are creating whiskies with their own aroma and taste proifiles but don't worry about trying to find all the "notes" they have said are in the whisky. Write down what you're getting out of the whisky.
Do it with a friend. Compare nosing and tasting notes. Sure, this may sound geeky and nerdy but we're not asking you to complete a book report. If a whisky has a hundred scents or more, who says you will all get the same thing and nor should you.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Seriously again - the more whisky you practice with, the more you'll enjoy about whisky. In moderation of course.