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The art of sniffies

01.05.20 by Tim Foster – Sales Manager, Lindores Abbey Distillery


There are those among us who love a good sniff of their drink prior to sipping it. There are even people who do it for a living (it’s not as glamorous as you’d think). Maybe you’re already a seasoned sniffer with a heightened sense of smell and an aroma vocabulary to match. Or maybe like most of the planet you stick your nose in a dram, take a lung full and simply smell – whisky. I thought I might share some sniffies stuff with you this week.

Lindores Abbey Distillery Whisky

Science stuff (skip if that bores you)

Thinking about it, I spend far longer doing the smelling of my dram than I do doing the tasting. Knowing a tiny bit about olfactory and gustatory stimuli, this makes sense. Our olfactory system is more sensitive than the sensors that stimulate the gustatory ones. What? We can get more information from our sense of smell than taste. Also, everyone’s biology is different. Just as our hair, size and skin is different as is our sense of smell and taste.

Consider this. Waaaaaaaay back in time, before single malt or even Whisky. We didn’t buy food from convenience stores, with handy use by dates and stuff. Our food used to grow and run about. When it came to eating food, we relied heavily on our senses – sight first (is it mouldy?), then smell (does it smell ok?) and if it past the first two tests… down the hatch.

When we drink Whisky, we’re going through the same process. Our brain still uses the same system to analyse the food even if we already trust it’s safe. Yay – science.

Apothecary Experiences

But it just smells like Whisky?

Good – it’s supposed to. The SWA work hard to make sure it does.

‘Why do some people pick out specific aroma and flavours’, two things here.

1 – some people can naturally associate chemical compounds (aroma/flavour) with smells and tastes they’ve had before. I am a bit jealous of these people.

2 – Most of us have learned how to do it, it takes practice and it’s really fun. I’m in camp two and through my own personal training ended up sitting on the tasting panel for SMWS, whose ‘sniffies’ game is so on point, just check out their labels for proof.

Glencairn glass

Becoming a sniffie

This is the good bit. You’re going to need the following:

  1. Whisky (any single malt will suffice, but I’d suggest starting with an un-peated malt)
  2. A glass (go for a Glencairn glass or similar tulip shaped glass – they concentrate aroma in the headspace… science term)
  3. A nose and a mouth
  4. Some water (tap is fine as long as it isn’t terrible, still spring water is ok too)
  5. A pen
  6. A notebook or anything you can write on (surfaces are ok, but get permission. I use this but started out with scraps of paper or any notepad I could see lying around)
  7. A seat
  8. Time (at least 5 minutes – but more like 10+)
  9. Scotch Whisky Flavour Wheel (optional, but will give you sniffies superpowers so is highly recommended – Google is your friend)


Doing the sniffies

Make yourself comfortable, you don’t really want to be disturbed when you do this. Avoid setting up somewhere with strong smells, noises or visual stimulus.

You can start by looking at the Whisky, analysing the colour, legs etc. But the fun for me starts when you get your schnoz in it. WARNING if you slap your nose all the way in and take a massive in breath, the ethanol will burn your nose – do not do this, it is silly and you’ll regret it. Hold it a little away from your nose and breath in through your nostrils, you can bring the glass closer as you do. Others recommend using one nostril and breathing through both. Whatever gets your mojo going.

If you’re really wanting to supercharge your skills, I’d recommend having a copy of the Scotch Whisky Flavour Wheel to hand. What are you smelling? Start with the basics, is it sweet? Smokey? Is it a bit herby? Maybe it smells like Christmas? Is it spicy on the nose, like pepper? Look at the descriptions of what you might be smelling and look for them in the sniff. Write down any that come to mind. Write down anything that isn’t on the wheel too.

Make sure you spend time practicing your newly found pastime, some aroma’s won’t come to you (there is a thing called anosmia and we can have it for certain smells). Some you’ll be more or less sensitive to (I am less sensitive to smoke than most). But the fun lies in sitting down with a dram starting to really get your sniffies on.

Special mention to Dr. Mathew Pauley who coined the term ‘sniffies’ – He has done a LOT of actual research on the art of sniffies. He’s also a cool dude.

Cask Ownership at Lindores Abbey Distillery

The distillery is of course currently closed but you can still chat to Elliot, our Cask Custodian about our cask ownership scheme and what is involved. We still have a lot of exciting projects going on with different types of casks coming through – but they are all very limited so get in touch if you would like to explore different opportunities within the whisky world. You can contact Elliot on casks@lindoresabbeydistillery.com or find out more at https://lindoresabbeydistillery.com/welcome-lindores-abbey-distillery/cask-ownership/

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