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Sulphur in whisky

johnmarrinan
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 27-06-2018 at 00:22 am

It was all the rage to identify pernicious traces of sulphur in whisky. I have not heard much talk of it lately.

peatbogger
Specialist Specialist
Posted on 27-06-2018 at 01:32 am

As far as I understand sulphur is mostly affecting first fill sherry casks, and it was more of a problem when casks were being "wet filled", that is filled straight into an unrefurbished cask that's been sitting with some sherry remains.

I think that practice ended with the shortage of good sherry casks, and most casks have for decades been taken apart before shipping and then selectively coopered back together.

Vintage casks with sulphur influence have also been weeded out from the warehouses over the years, used in blends or sold of to independents that bottled them as single casks long ago.

Personally I've never come across a single bottle with any amount of unpleasant sulphur, that being the "rotten egg" kind.

However I now and then come across the burnt match sulphur, which I actually enjoy.

Dyno
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 27-06-2018 at 13:57 pm

oh, i thought it was because they "preserved" the casks with sulphur inside!


but seems it's far more complicated (although the i idea i had is also listed)

http://whiskyscience.blogspot.com/2014/01/sulphur.html

and a ralfy reference to make it complete  happy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFx7n6wC_yk



johnmarrinan
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 27-06-2018 at 19:02 pm

Yeah, but whisky takes years to mature, so how come it seems to all have disappeared suddenly? I think people were desperate to spot a whisky with sulphur in it so they could sound like a whisky expert. But I could very well be wrong. Nobody mentioned sulphur for years, then someone mentioned it, then everyone mentioned it, then everyone forgot about it. That's not to say it doesn't exist...

lincolnimp
Connoisseur Connoisseur
Posted on 27-06-2018 at 20:25 pm

Yeah, but whisky takes years to mature, so how come it seems to all have disappeared suddenly? I think people were desperate to spot a whisky with sulphur in it so they could sound like a whisky expert. But I could very well be wrong. Nobody mentioned sulphur for years, then someone mentioned it, then everyone mentioned it, then everyone forgot about it. That's not to say it doesn't exist...


I always struggle to spot sulphur, to pin it out down sort of thing but I have often got the burnt matches smell in heavily sherried whisky. Jim Murray was the one who went mental about it. Some of us on here are much more sensitive than others but I prefer 2nd fill sherry anyway so do not come across it as much as Glenfarclas/glendronach lovers etc

morgbug
Member Senior Senior Member
Posted on 29-06-2018 at 05:12 am

I actually am a taster (or was, I'm currently not due to health reasons) for a brewer.  We've been trained to notice defects in beer and identify them as they tend to have specific causes that can often be resolved.  I know that other industries utilize similar taste panels and I can't imagine the whisky industry is any different.  When tasting it's always a panel of multiple people, in the range of 10-20.  The reason for the number of people, as I'm sure most here are aware, is because different people taste different things.  Not everyone picks up everything, though there are certainly individuals that are better at picking up more than others.  In beer tasting there are often very similar but quite distinct off-tastes that some cannot tell apart.  Cloves versus bubble-gum - I know it sounds ridiculously simple to tell those apart but you would be amazed.  That one works for me and I do it pretty easily because dear old mom used to make these delicious date cookies and she always used cloves.  That aroma makes me rather nostalgic and happy.  happy


I suspect the sulphur taste that many have found undesirable is because they are quite sensitive to it, as lincolnimp points out above.  So I do believe it was a legitimate issue.  But I also do believe it was substantially overblown by many trying to seem knowledgeable when it has nothing to do with knowledge (or minimally) and everything to do with a genetic ability to detect it at lower levels than many simply do not have.  To my mind many were trying to mimic Murray to appear experienced and knowledgeable while only a few were actually detecting much of anything.  It's a bandwagon type of thing.  


Personally I had a couple of bottles of single batch Glendronach that were supposedly notorious for sulphur off-tastes.  My bottles were fine and yes, I can taste and smell sulphur just fine in beer as well.  A friend also had the same batch and he was just fine.  I am a big sherry head so I should be coming across it though I suppose I go through fewer bottles than many, yet I don't.  YMMV.  

  Edited on 29-06-2018 at 05:16 am
Ganga
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 29-06-2018 at 05:15 am

Oh, I still find it.  We recently found a 20 yo Deanston (new release) that was absolutely foul with the stuff.  

mrgood
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 29-06-2018 at 16:22 pm

morgbug wrote:

I suspect the sulphur taste that many have found undesirable is because they are quite sensitive to it, as lincolnimp points out above.  So I do believe it was a legitimate issue.  But I also do believe it was substantially overblown by many trying to seem knowledgeable when it has nothing to do with knowledge (or minimally) and everything to do with a genetic ability to detect it at lower levels than many simply do not have. 

Kind of like cilantro.  Many people love cilantro but a portion of the population absolutely hates it.  I'm in the latter category.  I find it absolutely repulsive, tastes like soap to me, ugh!  Scientists actually found specific genes that dictate your receptivity to it.  I'm sure if they looked hard enough they'd find something similar for sulfur.

As for sulfur, I've only had two bottles that were particularly sulfury, a mid-90s Glendronach and an early 90s Glenfarclas.  Other than those two bottles I haven't had too much trouble with it.

  Edited on 29-06-2018 at 16:23 pm
BXpress
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 30-06-2018 at 09:38 am
You will know it when you see it. I've found it a few times and appearantly there are 3 major forms of sulphur: Burnt matches/gun powder (can be the most overwhelming, certainly is the most obvious), then there are rotten eggs (the most disgusting).

And some people say it can taste like beef sometimes (that one i can tolerate) which would explain a lot about Mortlach. I've read somewhere that Mortlach's new make is sulphury, appearantly Craigellachie too.

People don't talk about it because it's nothing new anymore, so don't expect many new articles on it. People will mention it in their reviews though. To me, a sulphur tainted Whisky is just as bad as a Whisky with an infected cork. Once you taste it, you can't ignore it and the bottle is just worthless.



  Edited on 30-06-2018 at 09:41 am
Ganga
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 01-07-2018 at 01:12 am

You can also get rubber and burnt rubber notes.  Most of what I've found when people say sulfur is that they really mean sulfate.  There is a big difference and I find sulfate much more common than something the smells or tastes like elemental sulfur.  

BXpress
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 01-07-2018 at 10:58 am

Ganga wrote:

You can also get rubber and burnt rubber notes.  Most of what I've found when people say sulfur is that they really mean sulfate.  There is a big difference and I find sulfate much more common than something the smells or tastes like elemental sulfur.  


True i forgot about the rubber. Although not to be confused with good rubber that you can get from old school Whiskies. Smells and tastes a bit like old style rubber ducks. Which i love.

https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/4414/glen-grant-1964-gm

  Edited on 01-07-2018 at 11:01 am
BenNevis
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 01-07-2018 at 17:39 pm

This one has a burnt rubber taste.  I cant say i get any sulphur from it  but its Not the best Macallan.

https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/13859/macallan-1996-smws-24108



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johnmarrinan
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 01-07-2018 at 22:15 pm

morgbug wrote: I do believe it was a legitimate issue.  But I also do believe it was substantially overblown by many trying to seem knowledgeable when it has nothing to do with knowledge (or minimally) and everything to do with a genetic ability to detect it at lower levels than many simply do not have.  To my mind many were trying to mimic Murray to appear experienced and knowledgeable while only a few were actually detecting much of anything.  It's a bandwagon type of thing.  



Morgbug... These are exactly my feelings on the matter too.

Whisky Epicurean
Member Senior Senior Member
Posted on 03-07-2018 at 07:52 am

Any new bottling around with burnt matches and/or gunpowder "flavour"? Or are they lost species?

Ganga
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 04-07-2018 at 21:23 pm

Not sure.  I've mostly been getting bourbon casked whiskies.



VaryingViewpoint
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 28-10-2018 at 05:10 am

Just watched review; "Whisky Review 130: Springbank 12 Cream Sherry Butt" 9min https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNFTprSWY68&t=311s they talk about sulphur at the 2min mark and they had something interesting to say. This bottle was very high sulphur when first opened, they let it sit for over 8 years at about 1/2 full without being gassed, now it's sulphur free. Has anyone every experienced anything like that before where over a long time of oxidization the sulphur dissipates to nothing?


One life... Drink it well
Ganga
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 28-10-2018 at 22:11 pm

Just watched review; "Whisky Review 130: Springbank 12 Cream Sherry Butt" 9min https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNFTprSWY68&t=311s they talk about sulphur at the 2min mark and they had something interesting to say. This bottle was very high sulphur when first opened, they let it sit for over 8 years at about 1/2 full without being gassed, now it's sulphur free. Has anyone every experienced anything like that before where over a long time of oxidization the sulphur dissipates to nothing?


I have found several bottles that have sulfur that diminishes with time open in the bottle.  Not sure it has ever quite disappeared but it certainly wasn't an aggressive flavor anymore.

whiskgeek
Member Senior Senior Member
Posted on 20-11-2018 at 05:59 am
That's good to know. I have a bottle of Bunna 12 on the shelf, that had way to much sulphur. I'll have to check it again now and then.

Ganga, you mentioned the Deanston 20y. I found that one unenjoyable due to the sulphur, but none of my companions could tell what I was talking about.
VaryingViewpoint
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 20-11-2018 at 21:59 pm

whiskgeek wrote:

That's good to know. I have a bottle of Bunna 12 on the shelf, that had way to much sulphur. I'll have to check it again now and then.


Ganga, you mentioned the Deanston 20y. I found that one unenjoyable due to the sulphur, but none of my companions could tell what I was talking about.

When I first started drinking scotch I couldn't taste sulphur like others could; burnt match-sticks and such, but now I can tell when it's there, primarily due to the texture and the seemingly masking of other flavours, like a foreign substance in the liquid. 

I noticed these things early on in my whisky journey, but I was not aware that these were "sulphur" components per-say and it never bothered me. Then had five samples (sulphur free samples) on five consecutive nights. They were all clean, balanced and very good. A couple of days later I was having a scotch (one of my own) by the fire took a sip not thinking about anything other then looking at the fire, and it hit me, matchsticks! It was just sitting in my mouth and I realized something was wrong. Swallowed, and ugh bitter sulphur like I've never experienced before. I was having trouble trying to convince myself to finish my dram. And yet this is my third bottle of this stuff. I wasn't even thinking about it sulphur at all when I took my first sip of the night. 

Now I'm in the process of getting rid of all my sulphur laden bottles. 

  Edited on 21-11-2018 at 10:52 am
One life... Drink it well
JohnnyThunder
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 04-01-2019 at 13:40 pm

Within the last year I've had two (maybe three) sulphur experiences. The first was the worst; The 12 years old OB Glenfarclas, rotten eggs, horrible. The second one was the rubber experience in form of the 18 years old OB Glengoyne; Bad nose, not as bad on the palate though and it got better through oxidization, but still a dissappointment. The last was the Aberlour 16 old which tasted really bitter. Not sure if that's sulphur or some other form of defect in the whisky? Compared to other Aberlours it totally lacked any sweetness, fruitiness or even spiceness. It was just thoroughly bitter. Any ideas what could cause that?

mrgood
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 04-01-2019 at 16:26 pm

JohnnyThunder wrote:

Within the last year I've had two (maybe three) sulphur experiences. The first was the worst; The 12 years old OB Glenfarclas, rotten eggs, horrible. The second one was the rubber experience in form of the 18 years old OB Glengoyne; Bad nose, not as bad on the palate though and it got better through oxidization, but still a dissappointment. The last was the Aberlour 16 old which tasted really bitter. Not sure if that's sulphur or some other form of defect in the whisky? Compared to other Aberlours it totally lacked any sweetness, fruitiness or even spiceness. It was just thoroughly bitter. Any ideas what could cause that?

One slim possibility would be poor storage or excessive O2 exposure (like a faulty cork).  The best example I had of a whisky going bad due to dumb storage was a Flaming Heart bottle.  It was wonderful stuff, but circumstances found the bottle in a very hot car for 24 hrs.  The result was a little bitter, but more just a drab, flat, hot (not temperature-hot but whisky-hot... if that makes sense) whisky that was little more than toilet worthy.

My worst sulphur experience was a Glenfarclas as well, a 17yr.

Ganga
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 11-03-2019 at 00:48 am

https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/24925/highland-park-1981


This was a monster sulfur whisky.  It was so heavy with it that it passed from undrinkable to interesting.  Think getting an actual sulfur pellet.  Fire and brimstone.

Whisky Epicurean
Member Senior Senior Member
Posted on 12-05-2019 at 17:33 pm

Whisky Epicurean wrote:

Any new bottling around with burnt matches and/or gunpowder "flavour"? Or are they lost species?


Found one, https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/66939/18-year-old .

VaryingViewpoint
Expert Senior Senior Expert
Posted on 12-05-2019 at 18:54 pm

Whisky Epicurean wrote:

Whisky Epicurean wrote:

Any new bottling around with burnt matches and/or gunpowder "flavour"? Or are they lost species?


Found one, https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/66939/18-year-old .


Here are several more;

Glenfarclas 1999 https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/127346/glenfarclas-1999

Glenfarclas 2000 https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/117035/glenfarclas-2000 

Glenfarclas 2000 https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/106024/glenfarclas-2000

Glenrothes 2007 SMWS 30.94 https://www.whiskybase.com/whiskies/whisky/95279/glenrothes-2007-smws-3094 

For me I'm finding that there are more and more "burnt matches and/or gunpowder "flavour"" releases out there, as I am focusing on such tasting notes so I know to stay away from these bottlings. And yet that does not stop or slow down new sulphur releases from selling out rather quickly. Some like these sulphur components in their whisky and some don't know or understand what they are drinking when it comes to sulphur-tanted whisky (which I didn't either, for many years myself). 

  Edited on 12-05-2019 at 19:12 pm
One life... Drink it well
Ganga
Expert Junior Junior Expert
Posted on 13-05-2019 at 00:28 am

There is nothing wrong with having components of sulfur in whisky.  It is when it becomes too overbearing in the whisky.  I don't mind the gunpowder and struck matches at all.  However, I don't like rubber and especially burnt rubber.  

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