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Letting old whiskies breathe

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Letting old whiskies breathe

Postby Admiral » Sat Jan 17, 2004 12:57 pm

I cracked open a cask strength, single cask 30yo Glenfarclas a few days ago. Being quite an old malt, my first impressions were wood related (i.e. polished oak, nuttiness, even leather). Then followed quite a few aromas and flavours that were characteristic of this great Speysider. However, I was somewhat concerned that everything was very tightly packed....almost hidden.

I held the glass in my hand for quite some time as I savoured this malt. The finish was so ridiculously long that I could wait 4 or 5 minutes in between gulps.

After 15 minutes or so, I really noticed the malt start to open up. It seemed a little smoother; more complexity and flavours started to reveal themselves; and it also seemed to get noticeably sweeter.

I think I've read one or two posts somewhere in these forums before where people have recommended letting an old whisky sit and breathe for some time before tasting it. (i.e not the whole bottle, just pour a dram and let it sit for a while).

I have returned to this bottle several times in the last few days, and I am now convinced that it improves tremendously once it's had a bit of air and breathing time.

I remember someone (sorry, don't know who) mentioning a rule of thumb for how long a whisky should breathe for, relative to it's age. (Was it five minutes for every 10 years in the cask?)

Can anyone else comment on this or provide information? Is there a golden rule that says any malt over 20 years old should breathe first? And for how long?

Suggestions, comments, thoughts, and ideas welcome!

Slainte,
Admiral
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Postby Lukas » Sat Jan 17, 2004 1:47 pm

I remember a tasting, where Jim Mc Ewan recommended to let a whisky breath one minute for every year in the cask. I think this is quite a good guidline.

I think every whisky changes whith some air. I think to follow the development of the whisky in the glass is one of the most fascinating things of whiskydringking. So I try the whisky from time to time while I let it breath. The most interresting experience I made was letting a 50 yo Glenlivet breath for about one hour, after about 30 minutes it really became quite peaty but 5 minutes later almost all the peat has gone again.

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Postby r0b » Mon Feb 23, 2004 11:33 pm

I think it's very difficult to say what generally works, although McEwan's view must surely be based on experience and seems a good rule of thumb.

Sometimes I've left a glass for some 30 minutes and the flavours have either changed or fled, depending on the style and age of the whisky. In my experience it's different every time but I will never rush it with an old whisk(e)y.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Feb 24, 2004 12:00 pm

I usually give my samples between 20 minutes to an hour to breath, depending on the age. You'll notice that younger whiskies 10 to 12Y old need less time to breath usually, in my case, around 10 to 15 minutes. However it isn't sometimes true. I came across a very you whisky, 7Y old one, and after 20 minutes I felt that it was finally open it self up, because I gave it such a time to breath, very strange.

The interesting part is to snif every now and then in the time you let your dram breath to the air. See how it develloped minute after minute, until you say that's it and start to enjoy the pleasures of your dram.

Now people probably understand why I take 4 up to 5 hours for one dram of Bunnahabhain 1968, 34Y, because it develops all the time and that makes it such an enjoyment

But it's a good rule of thum what McEwen says about every minute for a year in the cask. It's slightly different then Patterson's conclusion to keep it in your mouth for a second a year it spend in the cask. Especially when it's a cask strength one :)

For what's it worth

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Postby jerry_vcmg » Sat Mar 27, 2004 5:37 am

If wine needs to breathe, why not whisky? I believe whisky changes when exposed to air, even in the bottle. It's mostly for the better, usually in the nose.

Jerry
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Postby Admiral » Mon Mar 29, 2004 4:19 am

Yes, but wine matures and changes tremendously in the bottle - hardly the case with whisky.
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Postby Lawrence » Mon Mar 29, 2004 6:07 pm

For whatever it's worth, recently I read that a whisky writer (it was MJ, DB or JM) sate that as a rough rule of thumb he gives an older whisky a minute for each year. So for a 30 year old he gives it....30 minutes. However he said specifically that he does not sit and watch it for 30 minutes and then drink it rather he observes the changes over 30 minutes.
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Postby Laphroaig » Tue Mar 30, 2004 12:52 am

This is a great topic. Lukas you are Johhny on the spot with the McEwan recommendation. Odd that this should come up, as I was able to speak to McEwan for all of about 2 minutes (on the 18th) but this was one of the two things I quickly inquired about (recalling his suggestion from a previous tasting).

The concept of using time as an opener is very much over shadowed by spring water enthusiasts. I steer clear of water as much as possible and always opt for time when possible.

Tastings suck and beg for water because obviously everyone is on limited time. Either you drink up like crazy or feel you should demand a refund at the end.

At any rate I wish more people gave this a shot. It brings me to tears to see some guy 50/50 something with water that is 18+ years old.
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Postby bond » Wed Sep 29, 2004 5:25 pm

Came across this rather interesting thread and I had some questions. Most folks on this thread seem convinced that old whisky shall transform when exposed to air.

What happens to whisky in half-opened bottles? I have seen references to oxidation in some of the posts, but is there a thumb rule to that too? Also, any particular point in time when whisky in semi-consumed bottles begins to deteriorate?

Cheers,

Bond

P.S.: Please pardon me if there is a previous thread on this. The Forum does not really have the most convenient search engine!
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Postby Admiral » Wed Sep 29, 2004 10:50 pm

Bond,

My personal rule of thumb (which I read in a whisky book somewhere years ago) is that once a bottle gets to be about a third full (i.e. you've already consumed two-thirds of it), then you have approximately three to four months to finish off the bottle before it starts to change for the worse.

And I can tell you from bitter experience that this is pretty accurate.

It's surprising how quickly (and how terribly!) the whisky deterioriates when oxidation in a mostly-consumed bottle kicks in.

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Sep 30, 2004 8:36 am

Hi,

Depending on the quality of the whisky and how you have stored it, some even might last longer at third full level. I can tell you that from experience. That doesn't mean it never changes, it will change, but some whisky's seems to change more then others.

I think that the very best thing to do is, finish the bottle as quick as possible and you have a good excuse to buy another one of your favorite whisky.

Cheers,

Erik
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Postby bond » Tue Oct 05, 2004 12:16 pm

Experienced the sharp deterioration in a near empty Bowmore. Never thought I would live to see the day when I give up on a Bowmore dram half-way. Luckily, had a fresh bottle in store.

Damn, will have to drink up all those half empty bottles next week!!
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Postby bamber » Tue Oct 05, 2004 1:41 pm

IMHO whisky definitely changes, once the bottle is open. This can be for the better but generally it is for the worse.

As for letting whisky breathe - I have those little 'bonnet' lids for my whisky glasses. Pour a couple at a time. Keep one in your hand to let it warm and leave the other well alone - for about 20 mins. That way you keep those pesky angels thievin' 'ands of your booze and you get to try the spirit at various degrees of oxidation.

As Laphroaig says, this opens up the flavours, without weakening the booze.

BTW - this crazy practice drives my girlfirend mad, as does my 'incessant pompous pontification' that often accompanies my drinking :)
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