For the novice, like me, whiskey* can be intimidating even before you take a sip.
How long do I sniff before I drink? How come all I smell is alcohol? Why is my nasal passage on fire?
The answer: I am (was) unschooled in the proper art of "nosing a whiskey."
Thankfully, it's not as complicated as it sounds. It's literally as easy as 1-2-3, or so I was taught by Ross Graham, master of Scotch at Pernod Ricard USA, during a recent "Women and Whiskey" gathering at Marc Forgione's impeccable Tribeca steakhouse, American Cut. On that night, we drank sampled three bottles of Glenlivet, the 12-year, 15-year, and 18-year.
Here's what I learned:
First off, why nose a whiskey at all? The reason is either a) you're tasting a new whiskey and you want to explore its notes, or b) you just want to, and you do what you want.
Now for a warning: Whiskey ranges from 40-50% alcohol (sometimes more), and it can burn the inside of your nose if you're not careful. Keeping your lips parted as you sniff will save you from the sting.
In general, when you nose a whiskey using the techniques below, you're looking for three types of notes — fruit, sweetness, and grain. There's also smoke and spice, but you'll get those right away, just by having your nose near the spirit.