Muskrat has given some excellent advice here. I thought it would be nice to have this handy in the Live Tasting Forum for people to reference.
Muskrat Portage wrote:I just took a look back through this thread and no one mentioned simply training your nose. The tasting course is useful but you need the basic tools to start with.
Unless you suffer from "anosmia", an inability to differentiate odours, you can simply train your nose to pick up some of the more general scents.
Vanilla: Open a bottle of vanilla extract and take a sniff, from about 4 inches above the mouth. That's the scent you'll get.
Iodine: If you are close to the sea, a piece of kelp will impart the odour as well a bottle of iodine, sniffed from a distance of 4-5 inches will do. Think the smell of hospital wards.
Fruity notes: Cut into a fresh apple, peel an orange, peel a banana for some of the varieties you'll find.
Spices: Nose fresh sticks of cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, even sample a cinnamon heart to get both the spicy taste and heat in the finish.
Vegetative: Grab a handfull of clover, that's one of the scents you'll find. Walk past a fresh mown field of hay and inhale deeply. A bit of peat from a peat bog will also give another aspect of vegetation scent.
Peppery: Gently sniff at some fresh ground pepper, not too much or you'll sneeze and taste some just a bit to impart the hot peppery finish to your tastebuds. As well, I can't recommend enough, your doing some cooking and learning the scents of the various foods and spices you can use on a daily basis.
Remember when you are initiating your nose to these scents, too also inhale through the mouth so that all your sensory receptors are learning. Finally, take some whisky, say a Balvenie nose it, then smell the vanilla and eureka!, you have made a connection.
To further educate your olfactory organs, read other people's notes on whisky they've tried. Then, pour a sample yourself nose and taste it. If they smell and taste clover, iodine, honey notes compare your sample to the corresponding vegetative/food samples.
Hope this is of assistance in your personal exploration of Single Malts.