For the inexperienced, whiskey might just taste like liquid fire, in the same way that our first sneaky sips of wine at the family dinner table tasted like sour fruit. As we learn more about the origins and complexities of alcoholic beverages, we come to appreciate and savor their flavors. But whiskey is intimidating, and its mastery requires time that we don’t necessarily have. That’s where Richard Betts steps in with his new book The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know-it-All: Know Your Booze Before Your Choose ($14; amazon.com).
The kids-style, illustrated manual is loaded with scratch-and-sniff scents, turning an intimidating topic into a manageable and interactive lesson. For example, did you know that a whiskey’s country of origin greatly impacts the flavor? While we can’t give you the full olfactory experience, read below for some essential nuggets of whiskey wisdom, broken down by region.
Typical Flavor Profile: Caramel
“An American whiskey aged in warmer conditions typically become more readily drinkable at an earlier age than, say, whiskey aged in cooler Scotland or Ireland. American whiskey also has no peaty, smoky, or saline flavors.”
Typical Flavor Profile: Iodine/ocean, peat/smoke
“In Scotland, there are really three distinct styles of whiskey, ranging from mild to pungent. They’re all based on malted barley, which contributes an important flavor—blended Scotch has it, and single malts have even more of it. However, the heavily peated styles, commonly found on the islands, are the most pungent. They are often made within a stone’s throw of the ocean, so they have a saline flavor, along with the peat, which tastes like iodine, smoke, and bandages from the doctor’s office.”
Typical Flavor Profile: Cedar
“Japan has taken its cue from Scotland, and its whiskeys can have the smoky, peaty, quality to start. Then add ginseng, flowers, and a unique smell that is sometimes described as ‘old temple’ and is similar to incense, sandalwood, and cedar.”
Typical Flavor Profile: Maple
“Canada isn’t hot nor is the whiskey made by the sea. What Canada does have are laws that afford lots of leeway in production, meaning the maker can pretty much do what he or she pleases as long as the resulting product resembles what is known as ‘Canadian Whiskey.’ To me, this means soft and easy, with flavors like dried fruits and maple syrup.”
Typical Flavor Profile: Apple, honey
“In Ireland, the majority of whiskeys are made without peat (the exceptions are notable) and instead show grass, apple, honey, and leather. All in all, it’s an easy-drinking style.”