There are a few beers that I enjoy the smell of nearly as much as their taste (Pliny, Stone Enjoy By, many guezes) and smell is, of course, a huge part of the tasting experience. But what happens if your nose isn’t up to snuff, or if you find your olfactory abilities diminishing with age? Thankfully there are some simple things you can do to hone your sense of smell and get even more out of your beer!
The Wall Street Journal has a story about the powers of the human nose, people who’ve lost the invaluable ability, and what can do to boost your senses:
“Someone who is colorblind can look at red and green all day but never see it,” says Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment & Research Foundation, in Chicago. “But with smell, you can actually cause nerve connections to act, and smell what perhaps you couldn’t before.”
As beer drinkers we need to appreciate and cultivate our noses’ abilities, and the first step, according to Ron Winnegrad of a New York perfumery school, is something that any serious beer-drinker is already doing: simply be more “smell aware” in our day-to-day lives. He suggests smelling foods and drinks before sampling them, and if done regularly you can increase the sensitivity of your nose.
Mr. Winnegrad also suggests that you can take your nose-training a step further by regular exercising your nose using common spices and other pungent foods.
[He] suggests keeping each ingredient in a separate small jar and smelling the collection once a day for about a half-hour. Rather than take one deep sniff, take two or three short inhalations and then exhale. “That way you will avoid nose fatigue,” he says.
His point about short-inhalations being preferable to a long, deep sniff is important. The rapid-fire sniffing of veteran BJCP judges may seem strange, but the technique really does improve the “resolution” of the scents you are smelling. Give it a try with your next glass of beer.
As we age the acuity of our nose flags, just as our eye-sight and hearing does, but not all is lost. Regular nose-workouts will slow the effects of time, and Dr. Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Treatment & Research Foundation suggest a “sniff therapy” that can lead to an increase in active scent receptors in your nose:
Choose three or four different types of scents that you find pleasant—say, a floral scent, such as those found in shampoo or soap; a fruity scent from berries, a banana or some other resilient fruit; and another, different scent, like coffee. Avoid irritating scents like onion or ammonia, which can hamper smelling ability, he says.
Sniffing these scents frequently, around four to six times each day, will eventually spark different receptors in the nose to work.
If you want to boost the powers of your sense of smell, and hopefully improve how your beer tastes in the process, start by really smelling your beer. Smell all the foods you eat. Spend time smelling your morning coffee. Smell all the produce at the grocery store (especially the tropical fruits which can help you pick-out the more esoteric notes of the new popular hop varieties). Set up a set of “sniff therapy” jars and spend some time each day smelling them.
Soon enough you may find that your previously pedestrian olfactory-abilities have blossomed into a super-charged smelling machine. Just don’t blame us if your new super-nose finds too many bad smells along with the good ones.