Forgive me lord, for I have sniffed. Sniffed long and hard and deep. Sniffed some wonderful heady smells, some sickly sweet ones and a few disgusting ones. It’s my new hobby, sniffing. I put a dab of any new liquor that I’m about to try to the back of my hand first, wait for about five seconds, then bring it to my nose and sniff…
Two people introduced me to this quirky method of discerning a drink’s true flavours. The first was Jean Robicquet of Ciroc vodka on a visit to Delhi last year. I took a whiff of the neat vodka in my glass, and as with all vodkas, smelled nothing. But then, he applied a dab of Ciroc to the back of my hand, made me wait for five seconds, then asked me to smell it. There was a definite citrus tinge!
A few months ago, Sandeep Arora of Whisky Magazine reintroduced me to the method. He put a smudge of an expensive single malt to the back of my hand. I sniffed and an explosion of complex aromas wafted up my nostrils. I began experimenting with different spirits whenever I got a chance. Did you know Johnnie Walker Black Label smells heavenly, with cinnamon and cloves and just a touch of honey? Laphroaig will remind you of an early winter morning — smoky, peaty, with a surprising hint of honey. Blenders Pride didn’t quite cut it for me, for it was all honey and liquorice. As for feni — let’s not even go there.
What’s so different about this back-of-the-hand ‘method’ than simply putting the glass to the nose or actually sipping the liquid? Plenty, I’d say. Many times, I’ve floundered in vain trying to taste the promised hints of liquorice or cinnamon. Sometimes, the alcohol is so overpowering that it blocks the aromas. This method works for me because it allows the spirit to dissipate, leaving the drink’s secrets unlocked, so to speak.
I wish one could capture these smells in small vials and keep them for eternity. If wishes were horses, mine would smell of Laphroaig.