An introduction to The Scotch Whisky Aroma Nosing Kit

Our friend Charlie Maclean, who has been kind enough to host our Whisky Explorer tasting from time to time, recognises no less than 32 primary aromas in Whisky tasting (compared to the four primary tastes of sweet, sour, salt and bitterness). Charlie also tells us that there can be as many as 20 to 30 identifiable scents in a glass of Single Malt Whisky.

The application of tasting terms to Whiskies by tasters can be quite a haphazard process. The recollection of particular aromas can become hazy over time, and we have often seen tasters in our Whisky tastings frustrated by their perceived inability to apply specific aromas to particular Whiskies.

With this in mind Scent and Aroma Technology systems (SATS) was one of the stands I’d made a note to visit at 2010’s London International Wine Fair. I was interested in the aroma phial kits the company had developed, particularly in the Whisky field, as The Tasting Quarter uses wine versions of these kits (albeit from a different supplier) in our wine tasting events.

So what are aroma phial kits? Well, a number exist on the market, but the basic premise is the same; each kit contains reference aromas associated with the subject they are focused on (e.g. wine, whisky, coffee). In the case of wine for instance, reference aromas could include popular wine related scents like grapefruit, melon or raspberry. In the case of Whisky, caramel, peaty or smoky – and so on for each subject matter.

The idea behind each kit is to train the user in the art of scent recognition, and to assist them in building a tasting vocabulary. The side effect of these kits are that they also provide good entertainment.

Having been interested in this field for some time, I’ll admit I had trepidations. I have seen a number of scent and aroma phial kits released on to the market and the quality has been variable. Clever packaging and marketing aside, many manufacturers seemingly struggle to approximate the aromas they are seeking to represent.

The SATS Whisky nosing kits are impressive. The kits have been developed by George O’Dowd, the only working perfumer in Scotland, who also happens to be a biochemist. Each scent contains a lead oderant molecule with the characteristic smell. This is quite normal. Where SATS get clever however, is in their nuancing. To quote them directly “a rose scent note in a wine is never a pure rose note, but is always nuanced by a variety of secondary scent notes (green, floral, woody etc)”. Through grouping these secondary scents with the lead molecule the noser gets the most accurate representation of the scent.

The accuracy of the scent is all important. Inexact scents will skew users understanding of that scent, and this in turn has an implication for their communication in Whisky appreciation.

The Scotch Whisky aroma nosing kit itself contains 24 different aromas. Blank aroma strips are used to dip into each bottle, and the solution coated strip is what you nose. Interestingly, SATS believe good tasters and connoiseurs are made not born through processes such as this, encouraging for all those budding master blenders out there.

Kits like this can and should play an important part in entertainment and education. We’re glad to report we’re now using these kits in our Whisky tastings, and we wish the product every success.

Pip Martin