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Sulphur influence?

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Sulphur influence?

Postby Leither » Mon Apr 30, 2007 2:35 pm

Okay folks - my whisky journey to date has been helped enormously by both this forum and my own recent tasting experiences (both in bars and organised events) but also I admit that recently I have come to follow and appreciate Jim Murray's Bible (after getting the 2007 version for a xmas gift).

I take some of his scoring with a pinch of salt, so to speak, and I tend to look for more of a balanced view but his musings help me explore and understand the various taste profiles of the extensive range of whiskies he lists. I am also starting to broaden my mind and palate away from Islay and have recently got into both decent blends, some Irish and even some Bourbons.

Anyway my question is that of sulphur - one consistent theme Murray goes back to especially for Speysiders (to name a couple Mortlach and Inchgower spring to mind as ones he really seems to find fault with).

Now to quote a couple of personal examples I have experienced of late include a CS Mortlach bottled for Royal Mile Whiskies (sherry finish) which I find I like and can detect some hint of sulphur, or what I like to term a 'meaty' or 'Bovril like' taste. However, for a recent gift I received a small (thankfully!) 20cl bottle of Inchgower 1980 Single Cask CS 59.9% from the liquid deli 'DemiJohn', that I find incredibly 'sulphured' on both the nose and palate, which in actual fact I think is pretty horrid:

http://demijohn.co.uk/buildabottle.asp? ... code=ST011

I don't see the terms 'sulphur' or 'struck match' cropping up on this forum an awful lot or being discussed or explained in any depth. As such my questions are:

a) is this kind of profile something you avoid or indeed like? I have heard that some Europeans, particularly Germans seem to like this heavy sulphur influence.

b) where does this sulphur influence come from? I know it only sems to be referred to in terms of sherry casks but where does the Sulphur itself come from - a reaction between the Sherry and Cask and/or Air? Or does it come from the casks being sanitised to get rid of unwanted elements?

Or perhaps this is something that I should address to the man Mr Murray himself as I don't see it being referred to, at least to the same extent, or explained in other whisky places eg by Serge at WhiskyFun or here.
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Postby kildalton » Mon Apr 30, 2007 2:53 pm

To my knowledge sulphur it's to be considered a fault when it's too pronounced.
Often it does not last very long or it's a simple whiff so in those case it's not a fault at all.
I believe it's influence came from the treatment made to sherry barrels.
They use sulphur in the tatment of the barrels(I don't remenber if it's used to eliminate bacteria or as antioxidant)
so that's the reason why we only find it in sherry whiskies
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Postby Frodo » Mon Apr 30, 2007 3:17 pm

I find a sulpher taste in Caol Ila whiskies, and I quite like it there. If I found it in an IB bottling of Glenlivet I'd be less pleased...
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Postby Lawrence » Mon Apr 30, 2007 4:04 pm

There are two types of sulphur tatse in whisky; one that derives from the manufacturing process, ie from distillation and many people describe this as 'meaty' but there are many descriptors and you listed a few in your questions. Distillers like this because it adds character to the whisky.

The other is from the cask and almost always from sherry casks (but it may be from other wine casks also). When a sherry producers sends his cask to Scotland (or elsewhere) he will often burn a sulphur candle in the cask to sterilize it and to kill any bacteria growth. It does this a treat but the resulting whisky, for many palates, is ruined. Burnt matches etc is a good descriptor another is a 'furring' on the middle back of the tongue and the tatse of burnt matches on the lips. I personally don't consider this taste in a whisky to be attractive but many do. I also consider it a flaw and many distillers do also. However as I said many people like this but JM loathes it and comments on it whenever he comes across it.
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Postby Scotchio » Tue May 01, 2007 10:30 am

The bovril/meaty quality you found in the Mortlach may well be a distillery note. I've had old 15 yr old Mortlach which was notably meaty and enjoyably so. I've also had a 15 Mortlach( the current GM) which is sulphured, the struck match note smothers everything else and is really pretty unpleasant. Perasonally I'll be trying to avoid picking up any more whisky tainted in this manner.
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Postby Leither » Tue May 01, 2007 2:06 pm

Many thanks for all your input, and yes, Scotchio that Mortlach 15yo from G&M is another example of the extreme sulphur I tasted a small amount of a couple of weeks ago, that I'm starting to detest when it appears in large amounts.

Thanks also to Lawrence for some very clear insight, I didn't realise it was also part of production and not just the sherry effect.

I've found further from Inverhouse's website, specifically in relation to anCnoc:

'The importance of worm tubs* is that they preserve the sulphur compounds. The sulphur compounds then react with the char layer on the casks and this is what gives anCnoc its depth, body and butterscotch aroma.'

Worm tubs seem to be apparent in most of Inverhouse's distilleries.

*'worm tubs condense the spirit at a snails pace as it winds around up to 90 metres of copper pipe before ending up returning to the stillhouse'
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Tue Aug 21, 2007 10:34 pm

Sorry for digging up this old thread but as we've encountered questions about sulphur a zillion times I thought I'd mention the excellent article on wood and aging of whisky in issue 65. I won't go into detail but according to the article sulphur can give impressions of either; rubber, struck match and something similar to a meaty quality.
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