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Following the Scent of an Excellent Whisky


Your sense of smell is the most accurate way to appreciate and distinguish the finer elements of life, such as great whisky.

  • The gasp of gasoline from an old motorcycle as it churns back to life, the scent of piney aftershave, these vapors are often more powerful at conjuring memories than sight and sound alone. And, while a picture might say a thousand words, smell can communicate much more than that, especially when it comes to flavor. Of the five senses, smell is your strongest and most high-def with an impressive ability to detect extreme detail and intensity. With a direct link to memory and the capability to identify some 35,000 scents, your nose is also the most accurate way to appreciate and distinguish the finer elements of life, such as great whisky.
  • Identifying the five elements of taste—sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami—is largely a functional process. While on the other side of that, flavor becomes the interplay of aromas, texture, and expectation which push the experience into emotional territory. A longtime authority in the world of flavor and the definitive Speyside Single Malt Whiskies, The Glenlivet is a good place to start understanding this science of smell and flavor. A whisky tasting usually begins with examining the color; your eyes will tell you a bright golden shade is probably younger than a rich amber one, but your nose will explain the rest.
  • Smelling, or “nosing,” a whisky is essential to experiencing the complex and varied flavors of The Glenlivet because 90 percent of what you taste relies on what you smell. Scientist who study olfaction, or the science of smell, have found that your nose can actually detect aromas diluted to one part in a million. In fact, adding a few drops of water to a dram or even a healthy splash can actually help open the bouquet, or in chemistry terms, the fatty ester chains which release aromas for a richer tasting experience. Using a tulip-shaped glass also maximizes taste because it traps in the aromas and releases them through a small area.
  • When you take a whiff, your first inhalation will be a rush of alcohol; your second will make the characteristics of the whisky easier to discern. Breathing in the molecules stimulates nerve cells in your odor receptors that transmit data to the olfactory bulb in the brain’s limbic system, which also controls memory and emotions. The more detail you send your brain, the more deeply you can begin processing the flavor. Once you’ve taken a sip, you should hold it for a moment before swallowing it slowly. This lets you judge the “mouth feel,” or texture and smoothness, after which, you can assess the finish, or the length of time the flavor lingers.
  • At one of the distillery’s Nights of Passage tasting series, a Master of Scotch can help you further understand the science—and the art—of tasting whisky. For example, when you try The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, the congeners, or complex chemical compounds your nose detects, are aromas of citrus fruit, which increase the flavors of zesty oranges, pears, and hint of toffee apples. Alternately, when you nose The Glenlivet Nàdurra Peated Whisky Cask Finish, you’ll smell peat and subtle smoke. Each glass of The Glenlivet is a unique showcase of this interplay between smell and flavor.

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