Welcome to the Forum! I am glad to hear that you have enjoyed (or at least gotten something useful out of) my reviews. I write them for myself as much as for others. This is one of the methods I use to discern tastes/flavors/aromas: I write them down. By forcing yourself to encapsulate as much as you can into words, you are practicing the art of evaluating a whisky. The more you think about the whisky in words instead of feeling, the better you will get.
In addition, I do try to smell things, and taste new things, so I can use those tastes and smells in my reviews. I have been tempted just to buy a bunch of fruits (ripe and dried) along with other things just to smell and get to know
them. However, I stop myself, as it would be painful to admit to my wife what I was intending to do with all of that!
As for your idea about buying samples, that is EXACTLY what you should do! Don't waste your money on full bottles at first. Find as many miniatures as you can, and then go to some high-end bars to get a taste of some others. Don't sit at a table, but saddle up to the bar and tell the bar-keep you are looking for something 'new.' He'll ask you what you've had, and he might suggest something. In this case, ask for just a taste. He'll probably give you a sip to see if you like it. Don't say 'yes.' That will end your tasting and then you will be expected to buy it! Try to pinpoint the predominate flavor, and say it out loud. He'll probably suggest another that doesn't have that flavor, and offer a sample. Accept it. Repeat this process three or four times and then BUY one (your favorite of those sampled, or if you didn't like any of them, the Mac 12yr.)