Strange phenomenon

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Strange phenomenon

Postby jimidrammer » Wed Oct 26, 2005 3:53 am

To elaborate on the " does whisky get old thread" this is something I've been wondering about for awhile now. For about a year I've been trying to figure out why some bottles are great when first opened then fade, while some are great and stay great to the end and others still are so-so at first and improve dramatically near the end of the bottle. Three different scenerios from the same basic product. My question is: Is it from the distilling process, the way they are finished, the age in the bottle, the age in the cask, ABV or something I'm not considering? Oxidation should be uniform, right? As an example of each : Ardbeg 10, as with almost all Islays , start great and stay great. Speysiders and Highlanders such as Glenfarclas and Glenrothes, especially Sherry Monsters seem to build as they breathe, and Campbeltowns and Island malts like Springbank, Glen Scotia, & Highland Park seem to lose their freshness rather quickly. Yea, I know I'm kinda vague here, and these are just examples, but I don't like to get into critical details for such a subjective opinion. I just wondered if anyone has noticed this and had any thoughts on the cause, or is it just my imagination. Most of the many different malts I've tried have been one or two bottles each and I've yet to find one react other than the way the previous bottle did, so I'm coming to the conclusion that it's in the way it's made more than the age, cask or finish. What do ya think?
Last edited by jimidrammer on Wed Oct 26, 2005 7:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Oct 26, 2005 4:31 am

Beats me...something about the character of the malt, I suppose. But if you know one is going to fade after opening, I guess you'd better down it in one sitting.

I had a Bruichladdich Links (the Augusta, if I recall) that was dreadful at first sip, and quickly turned tolerable; the last dram was pretty good. And I remember a Valinch that started out good and finished great. 'Laddies are not typical Islays, of course, and this profile seems to fit in with your Highlanders.

Just now I'm finishing up a bottle of Balvenie 15 that I'd forgotten was down to its last drams before I left for vacation over a month ago. It doesn't seem its usual splendid self. But it might be Dusty Shelf Syndrome, or it might just be me...I haven't been my usual splendid self the past few days, either.

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Postby Admiral » Wed Oct 26, 2005 4:39 am

I'd say it's obviously inherent in the malt.

Speysiders typically have those light, floral notes because they are rich in esters & other substances. These compounds in the whisky will react very differently with oxygen, compared to an Islay malt which might have less esters, but is rich in phenols instead.

The very compounds which make different whiskies taste and smell different to one another are the very same compounds that cause different whiskies to be more or less sensitive to oxidation.


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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Oct 26, 2005 4:58 am

One can only wonder, though, how it is such substances survive ten or fifteen years in a breathing cask, and the trauma of the bottling process, only to crap out right there in your very own bottle. It would be interesting to taste a familiar malt all along the way, or to pick the brain of someone who does such for a living.

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Postby kallaskander » Wed Oct 26, 2005 8:02 am

Hi there,

that finer aromas and flavours keep for 30 years in a barrel and vanish from a bottle within months or a year might just be a function of the different volumes of the two. In the barrel, obviously at cask strength there is a higher alcohol content and higher abv carries and therefore keeps flavours better. Because of the bulk of spirit of 250 to 500 litres all that is in a malt is more concentrated and the starting level for deterioation to set in is much higher in all than in a bottle. Deterioation here is happening and welcome because some of it is highly welcome and improves the whisky. Here the magic of the barrel does wonders and we are all very happy that whisky does deteriorate in this way and call it "maturation".
One can speculate that diluting, chill-filtering, vatting and the reduction of the volume of a malt from the bulk of a barrel to the 0.7 or 0.75 litres of a bottle does things to the flavours in it.
That could result in the conclusion that cask strength bottles retain all the flavours longer than a bottling of the same malt of 40,0% abv. For that I have no empirical proof. But I think it is so.
That peat is a flavour which is hard to kill anywhere especially in contrast to the finer basic flavours of a Lowland malt is obvious. Therefore it is natural that heavy Islays seem to keep in open bottles forever.
"Seem" because we can hardly tell what happens to finer flavours beneath the peat which we can not pin down correctly but which co-determine the overall taste of a Islay malt, too.
Wish I had a nose fine enough to give exact data here instead of rambling.


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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Oct 26, 2005 11:57 am

I have wondered how professional tasters keep their whiskies. JM talks about keeping bottles of (say) Glenfiddich 1937 for many years and he has clearly revisited some of his tastings after two years. Does he go through elaborate marbles and resealing processes or does he just live on a wing and a prayer?

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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Oct 26, 2005 3:07 pm

If I had valuable bottles I wanted to keep over a long period, I think I would use the inert gas method, and perhaps find some sort of serious closure other than the standard-issue cork.

Good thoughts, kk, and in thinking about it some more, the spirit spends all those years acquiring stuff from the wood. You know, they can study the whole process and analyze it and tell us the chemical processes going on, but it seems to me that it will always have a little mystery, and will always smack a bit of magic. I guess that's what makes whisky so much like life!

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Postby kallaskander » Wed Oct 26, 2005 3:45 pm

Hi there,

thank you Mr T. Rightly you point to the barrel itself which is the other part of the mystery. Experts claim that 60% of the flavours come from the time a whisky spends in the breathing barrel and the things that happen durin g that time.
For my part I want to keep the magic and don´t want to be informed about the chemistry in great detail. Well, most of the time.
You know what happened when the scarab explained to the centipede how he walks.... ?

Greetings kallaskander

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Strange Phenomenon

Postby Froagi » Thu Oct 27, 2005 3:33 am

I think sometimes an Angel gets bottled and continues to have it's share. I know there wasn't one in my first bottle of Ardbeg 10 YO. I opened it two months ago and am drinking the last of it right now. it's as good tonight as it was when I opened it.


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Postby Scotty Mc » Fri Nov 18, 2005 10:11 pm

This why I tend not to open a bottle until another is finished. I dont want a good dram to go to waste!

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Postby JWFokker » Mon Nov 21, 2005 4:17 am

Generally, as you consume a bottle, the amount of air in the bottle increases, and as a consequence, the rate of oxidation also increases. The air to liquid ratio in a cask is likely much lower than the air to liquid ratio of a partially consumed bottle. And as far as I know, casks are also not being opened and closed repeatedly, so they don't get a fresh supply of oxygen mixed in. I've never been to a distillery though, so I may be wrong. Also consider that the alcohol in the scotch will evaporate faster than the water, which may also affect the flavor.

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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Nov 21, 2005 5:56 am

Well, a very old barrel may in fact get pretty low, but you are right that it isn't opened and closed all that much, so the air inside will be pretty saturated with whisky vapor.

If you want a dramatic demonstration of the effect of alcohol evaporation on whisky, just leave a dram out overnight. It will taste awful the next day. This is, I believe, exactly what happens in a mostly-empty bottle over time.

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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Dec 02, 2005 9:23 pm

I don't think 2 months is long enough to have an adverse effect on most bottles. A good rule of thumb is that once the bottle is 1/2 to 2/3 empty to finish a bottle within a year.

I've had a half full bottle of Oban, that I touch once in a blue moon, and has been half empty for 4 years. Still tastes great.

I discuss using a Vacu-Vin in tomorrow's (12/3/2005) The Scotch Blog

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