Annabel Meikle explains Test of the Senses

Annabel Meikle tells Whisky Corner all about her Spirit of Speyside show – Test of the Senses

Have you ever wondered where you find some of the descriptives you read in a tasting note? Spiced apple, bubblegum and warm leather – where do these aromas and flavours come from and who writes the tasting notes?  Well wonder no more.  Annabel Meikle (@thewhiskybelle) will walk you through the world of aroma in this tantalising class.

Annabel at SMWS Queen Street
Annabel at SMWS Queen Street

Hi Annabel, how are you?   You are so busy at the moment so thanks so much for finding some time to talk to us about your Spirit of Speyside event.

So tell us a little more about what the “Test of the Senses” class is about?

The idea behind the class is to try and get the audience to engage with theirs senses. I often start a tasting by explaining how we are going to use our ‘portable sensory kit’ which is located on and in your head – making it especially portable. When we experience a malt whisky we should remind ourselves that this is a complex spirit and we need to use our senses to explore what we find in the glass.

What inspired you to create this event?

What I hear over and over again at tastings is ‘I can smell something, but I just can’t put my finger on it.’ It’s what we explain as The Word Problem – we aren’t confident is describing what we smell, even if we can recognise it. I like to get the group to really think about what they are smelling and think of the words they use to describe this – after all if you can’t communicate this to anyone else then you can’t share your experience. But everyone in the room is experiencing a slightly different sensation, and everybody has differing life experiences so this is where the fun begins!

How do you teach people to train their nose?

I like to get people to think about their sense of smell which plays such a vital part in appreciating a single malt. The sensory ‘warm up’ involves aroma bottles and getting the audience more confident in identifying single aromas.  I then introduce what I call a feeling aroma – this helps to demonstrate the link between aroma and memory.

Can you tell us what whiskies you will be using?

The first two drams are both from Glenrothes, but one is an SMWS single cask bottling.  I wrote the tasting notes for this and they are written with a quirky house style.  This is because the Society really focusses on the flavours and aromas rather than the brand.

What else will the class teach?

After this the group will be given two whiskies without tasting notes but I give them some props and invite them to create a visual tasting note which is less intimidating than making them write one – but they can if they feel brave enough!

Do you think the class will help show just how different tasting notes can be?

I’m always fascinated by what people come up with when their imaginations are fired up! It’s interesting to see what difference in the same whisky people find.  We can then compare them to the official tasting notes to see how close they came and then award a prize to the most imaginative entry.

As if all that isn’t exciting enough is there anything else to tempt us with?

The final whisky is still an experiment, so it doesn’t have any official tasting notes, so I’m really interested to see what happens with this one!

Spirit of Speyside
Spirit of Speyside

As if one event isn’t enough you are also hosting another event – “Whisky Mountain” walk, why?

In my spare time I like to climb up mountains, a few years ago I climbed Kilimanjaro with a group from HIT Scotland and we raised £120,000 that provided 200 scholarships.  This May we are tackling Mount Paradiso in Italy – blatant plug –  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/HItalianJob

So when Dave Broom couldn’t do the walk he suggested me as this was appropriate training! I’m really looking forward to it as apparently the view is amazing (I’m going to have to take your word on that one).   There are still some tickets available for this and they can be purchased here.

Just how busy are you at the moment?

I have a busy weekend with the Whisky Lounge and I am really excited about the class I’m hosting there, however the downside is I will have one day off before heading into next week when I’ll be finalising the arrangements for the Festival.

How excited are you to be involved with Spirit of Speyside Festival?

It seems like an age ago that I was up in Aberlour arranging the venue and the idea behind the day but the time has flown in.  I can’t quite believe how quickly it has come around I haven’t met Angela or Johanne yet so I think the excitement levels will be running high by Thursday! !

For anyone still to book, why should they attend this event?

This promises to be a fun and relaxed tasting and is the perfect event to do in pairs, or a team.  Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone else at this event as joining a team is a really fun way or interacting with fellow whisky lovers.  You can learn how to recognise specific aromas and you may even surprise yourself with how much you already know.  There are five fantastic drams on offer and a chance of winning a prize.  (Could you ask for more?, ps if anyone is looking for a team mate I’ll be there)

Thanks so much for your time Annabel, I am really looking forward to attending this event!

An amazing event held by one of the busiest women in whisky right now.  If you haven’t already booked tickets to this one off event at Spirit of Speyside Festival then what’s stopping you?  This is a not to be sniffed at (geddit?) chance to train your nose with Annabel’s help and become your own expert. Who knows you could even walk away with a prize! With very limited availability book here now.

Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)

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