Editor’s Note: This product was provided to us as a review sample by The Bourbon Nosing Kit. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Whiskey nosing kits are hardly a new concept. A quick web search will find a handful of variations on the theme for you. They tend to be pricey, though, and often – for this reviewer, at least – seem to carry a whiff of stodginess and nerdiness.
Chris Walters is out to change those perceptions. As a college student, he started obsessing over whiskey and decided he wanted a better way to categorize what he was tasting and learning about. Seven years later, the Bourbon Nosing Kit he developed sells for $69 – and his expansion kit for $79 – rather than hundreds of dollars that other similar products are listed for online. Walters’s kits also come in utilitarian plastic packaging rather than wood and leather.
When I first reached out to Chris to talk about his nosing kits a few months ago, right after the holidays, he was sold out. What started on his Etsy page has become a full-time business, and he was dealing with the same frustrations as many other companies during the pandemic.
Replacement kits, he wrote me in frustration, were “stuck on a container ship waiting to enter the country.”
Supply-chain issues aside, the Bourbon Nosing Kit and Bourbon Nosing Expansion Kit have a lot going for them. They’re easy to understand and relatively affordable, for starters. There are 18 small, plastic containers in each kit with a variety of scents from leather and tobacco to hazelnut and coconut. They’re color-coded in five categories: Grain; sweet; spice; fruit; and wood.
I would’ve preferred some kind of instructions with the kits explaining the color-coding system and explaining why Chris picked the scents he did and categorized them the way he did. (And maybe what I was supposed to do with the honey stick laying between the little containers.) In the end, though, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to just crack open the containers and start sniffing.
The powdered spices in the kits are fantastic. The smells really come through and it’s easy to compare them to a pour of whiskey. The peanut powder is a particular hit. Allspice, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, coffee, nutmeg, dill, chocolate, brown sugar, and mint are all great, and tobacco, almond shavings, and leather waft up intensely, too. (In theory, you could accomplish much the same thing with a well-stocked spice rack, but we don’t all have those at our disposal.)
Other offerings, such as caramel (just a plastic-wrapped piece of candy), are duds. Corn, wheat, rye, and herbal tea didn’t smell like much, either. And the idea of cutting open a honey stick and dribbling it into a plastic container sounded both messy and not particularly helpful.
Some of the scent containers are in between. Butterscotch and white chocolate are no more than little candies too, but you can smell them well enough to be useful. Cherries, plum and apricot were similarly helpful, if not overpoweringly strong. [Reviewer’s note — Chris Walters contacted me after publication to offer a tip: For some of the more faint aromas (caramel, corn, wheat, rye, etc.), he recommends exhaling through your nose into the container first and then inhaling. This will both warm the ingredients slightly and generate airflow, which makes everything more aromatic. He said he will include this tip in future versions of the Nosing Kit.]
There are a lot of scents commonly used to describe whiskies that don’t make an appearance in the kits at all. Smells like lime, grapefruit, lavender, ginger, hay, cut grass, burnt toast, iodine, seaweed, peat, anise, sherry, malt, and blackcurrant would be great additions if there’s ever an expansion to the expansion kit.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a gift for the whiskey lover in your life who already has all the right glasses and a beautiful decanter on the bar, my guess is you’d do well with something like this. Think Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day) or a birthday. I suspect it would provide hours of conversation and grounds for debate while we do what we all really like to do best – enjoy a good pour of whiskey.
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Scott Bernard Nelson
Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.