Scratch-and-sniff your way to becoming a whiskey expert with this new book

A scratch & sniff book about whiskey?

 A scratch & sniff book about whiskey? Bring it on. It’s from master sommelier Richard Betts, who also wrote a scratch n’ sniff guide to wine. But that was last year.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Richard Betts is well-connected in the world of wine and whiskey. He’s a master sommelier, albeit an unconventional one, and even has his own line of mezcal. He lives in Colorado, travels all over the world, and a couple of years ago while on a ski trip fueled with great wine and whiskey came up with the idea of a scratch-and-sniff book. For grown-ups. About wine.

That book is called “The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide To Becoming A Wine Expert.” And it was kind of a big hit, so much so that he and his collaborators, Crystal English Sacca and Wendy MacNaughton, got together again to produce a new book: “The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide To Becoming A Whiskey Know-It-All.”

And it really does have almost invisible patches embedded in the text to scratch and sniff your way to determining, for example, if you prefer your whiskey sweet, mild, spicy or smoky.

Sniff in patches imbued with the scents of corn, rye, and barley. And yes, the corn really does smell like corn.


When Betts gets into barrels, you’re sniffing vanilla or cinnamon or toast. He does a quick tour of countries that make whiskey and what barrels they use, then moves on to the important lesson of deciphering the label.

And at the very end, tucked in an envelope at the back is “The Map To Your Whiskey Desires.” Find out how you like your whiskey by finding the characteristics you’ve discovered that you prefer in the previous pages.

Betts has whiskeys for mixing, sipping or sipping and savoring in the outer ring of the chart. Some are super pricey.

“If you select one that stretches your wallet,” writes Betts, “try a couple to the left or right to find one that fits your budget.” Well, you’ll have to look the prices up. It would have been super cool if he’d color coded the whiskeys or indicated in some way which ones are bargains, moderately priced, expensive or worth a very big splurge. But then again, you’ll learn more if you look it up yourself.


If you’re looking for tasting notes about specific whiskeys, this is not the book. Instead, think of it as a primer for understanding what whiskey is all about.

Actor Edward Norton liked the book enough to give him a splendid blurb: “This is really the ultimate ‘hack’ on whiskey. I learned why I should try Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt faster than Google Maps could teach me where the Glorioso Islands are.”

And Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group chimes in with “My wife is Scottish, so I needed to learn about whiskey — and this was the way!” Maybe Branson is planning on taking some whiskey into space.

P.S. If you’re thinking stocking stuffer, it would have to be a pretty big stocking.

Follow @sirenevirbila for more on food and wine.


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