Scratch & Sniff Whiskey, Now a Thing

The definitive guide to whiskey (and whisky) drinking.

Scratch and Sniff Whiskey Featured
The definitive guide to whiskey (and whisky) drinking.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

So said Mark Twain, and if he were alive today, he’d surely regard wine-and-whiskey maven Richard Betts as a kindred spirit. Case in point: Betts’ latest not-so-kid-friendly board book, The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know-It-All: Know Your Booze Before You Choose. The publisher touts the book as a “clever distillation of America’s favorite libation,” and they won’t get any argument from me. Betts manages to entertain and educate the reader in only 20 cardboard pages—humorously designed and illustrated by Crystal English Sacca and Wendy MacNaughton.

According to Betts, most everything we perceive as taste, we actually just smell. To simplify things, he divides the various flavor notes of whiskey into three categories: grain, wood, and place. Together they make whiskey taste the way it does, and as you scratch-and-sniff your way through all sixteen notes—vanilla, honey, sandalwood, apple, etc.—the aromas will help you find the whiskey that’s right for you.

If you prefer the sweet-and-mild blend of corn and wheat (grains), with notes of vanilla and caramel (woods), then bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are for you. . Nosing something a bit spicier? You’ll want a rye whiskey. And if smoke and ocean breezes (places) titillate your senses, you’ll be looking to the Scottish Isles to import your single malt booze.

Cool stuff, huh? Here’s a smattering of more cool stuff from this witty whiskey guidebook…

  • The trick to knowing your “whiskey” from “whisky”: If there’s an “e” in the name of the country where it’s distilled, like America, it’s “whiskey.” No “e”—as in Scotland”—it’s spelled “whisky.”
  • Basically, whiskey is just distilled beer. Who knew?
  • American distillers use only brand-new oak barrels to age whiskey, while other countries reuse old wine or whisk(e)y barrels.
  • The Japanese add ginseng to theirs, while makers of what is commonly labeled “Canadian Whisky” infuse things like dried fruits and maple syrup.

Next, Betts deciphers the language of labels with illustrations of two bottles—a Tennessee Whiskey, and a single malt Scotch. It’s here you’ll learn what such esoterica as “Bottled in Bond” and “Lincoln County Process” mean, and why the words “Sherry Finish” are displayed on a bottle of whisky from Scotland.

Finally, tucked into a sleeve on the next-to-last page, is a circular chart promising to be “The Map to Your Whiskey Desires”—a matrix of 279 whiskies with advice on how to enjoy each. Among the 66 brands of bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey, for example, the chart recommends which to mix or shoot (Jim Beam, for one), mix or sip (Buffalo Trace, a personal favorite), or sip or savor (Pappy Van Winkle’s 23-Year-Old, among the elite few).

Sounds like the ideal stocking stuffer for the whiskey-lover in your life, doesn’t it? And if your nearest and dearest tend to bypass the booze and go for the grape, there’s always Betts’ earlier, and similarly engaging masterpiece, The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert: Take a Whiff of That.

Didn’t see that one coming, eh?