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All about Corks

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All about Corks

Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 21, 2006 3:43 pm

Today on The Scotch Blog, I have part one of a two part story which looks at the age old question - why do single Malts use corks.
Part two is next Friday.

Enjoy.
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Postby Dubois » Fri Apr 21, 2006 5:34 pm

Interesting article , thanks for sharing.
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Postby rthomson » Fri Apr 21, 2006 8:01 pm

Nice article. I look forward to the second part.

Apparently, there is quite a range in individual ability to perceive TCA. Personally, I've never detected it in any whisky or wine and I'm certain that it must have been present in some. I was at a wine tasting recently and the server popped open a new bottle, poured me a sample, and then did the same for himself. Before I could even pick up my glass he interrupted me by saying, "I can't let you have that one, it's tainted." He quickly took it away. I pleaded with him because I wanted to see if I could detect the TCA. He refused, though, stating that he was the owner and it was his mission to ensure that as few people as possible have a tainted wine from him. I should have asked him why he hasn't switched to screwcaps.

Ron
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 21, 2006 8:15 pm

I have detected TCA in a number of wines, and have only once (MAYBE) detected it in a bottle (Glenfiddich Solera 15) I say maybe, because there's a chance I just don't like the Solera - I haven't had an opportunity to try a different bottle.

In the Second part I have a very interesting (extended) talk with Ian Millar about the William Grant view of the cork - I also talk with a rep from Amorim - the Portuguese cork supplier.
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Postby MGillespie » Fri Apr 21, 2006 11:14 pm

Great article, Kevin!

Mark
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Postby Frodo » Fri Apr 21, 2006 11:54 pm

Excellent article! I'm also thinking of an observation by Harry regarding a series of Signatory 350ml bootles which had a screw-cap. Harry did say (if I remember correctly) that the series had suspect whisky. Perhaps it was just an odd shipment offloaded to the LCBO, and after sitting around for some time the bottles "breathed" a little too much...?
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Postby hpulley » Sat Apr 22, 2006 12:32 am

The screw caps wouldn't reseal properly after opening them after. You had to use a cork or risk further oxidation. Those were the worst metal screwcaps I've seen on those 350mL Sigs.

Harry
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Postby Dan G » Mon Apr 24, 2006 5:52 pm

It seems like it would be hard to find a bottle of whisky that was 'corked' because the liquid and the cork don't touch, unlike with wine where they recommend maintaining contact at all times.

But, even with wine, there is a growing amount of research into the value of cork. I recently read an article about Penfolds, one of Australia's biggest wine makers, having been testing screwtops on even very high-end, meant to be aged, wines for the past decade or so. They've bottled some of their Grange ($200 +) line with screwtops (for internal research purposes only) and have been tasting them side-by-side with cork-sealed versions. They found 1) that the wine was aging well with both closures, but 2) more importantly, the wine with screwcaps was more consistent over time. That is, after say 10 years, the cork-sealed bottles, when opened, had a wide variety of quality/taste/readiness, while the ones with screwtops were pretty much the same.

Wine afficionados can argue over whether consistency is a good or bad thing, but what the winery said is that it would allow them to better predict when the wines should be at their peak.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Apr 25, 2006 4:12 am

Dan G wrote:It seems like it would be hard to find a bottle of whisky that was 'corked' because the liquid and the cork don't touch, unlike with wine where they recommend maintaining contact at all times.


Not everyone knows this. We've had folks post here that they were laying their bottles down. I've even seen retailers who do it. I have no firsthand experience, but the general consensus (as most all of you know) is that such contact with the cork is potentially disastrous.

And of course, the problem then is that the cork dries out, and doesn't seal as well. It seems to me that cork is simply not a suitable closure for whisky. It is ubiquitous, though...well, so are tumblers.

The Glenrothes 1992 has a synthetic stopper. The fact that it is flesh-colored is a bit disturbing!
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 28, 2006 9:56 pm

And remember, just because you store it upright doesn't mean the shippers, importers, distributors, truck drivers, shelf stocking shopkeepers (and anyone else along the delivery chain) followed the "This End Up" instructions on the case.

There were a thousand opportunities for the whisky to touch the cork before it got into your loving hands.

Second part is up today...
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Postby hpulley » Fri Apr 28, 2006 10:01 pm

There is a 100% chance that the whisky touched the cork. In a full bottle, the liquid is so close to the cork that it will at least be splashed quite often during shipping. Assuming the shipping container was not perfectly level for the trip, there is also a good possibility that the cork was immersed for a time. I keep mine upright but don't cry if I see that they've fallen over during the drive home from the store.

Harry
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Postby Photon » Sat Apr 29, 2006 12:04 am

If you've ever had to take a bottle on a plane, there is no way it can remain upright, especially if you are forced to store it under the seat in fron t of you. I've got to the point where I just don't worry about that much.

-P.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Apr 29, 2006 7:34 am

No, I don't either. But I do think (only conjecture, I admit) that contact with the cork over a long period of time is a bad thing. I think the alcohol will dissolve stuff that you'd rather not have dissolved in your whisky.
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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Sat Apr 29, 2006 7:38 pm

I actuall tip some bottles upside down if I have not drank from them for long a while. This is just to moisten the cork to keep the seal working. However it is only a few seconds so I do not worry about the contact period as I reckon that it will not cause any undesirable effects to my whisky. But then again what do I know it could be killing the taste, I really just don't know but I do not worry about it too much.
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Postby Lawrence » Sun Apr 30, 2006 6:02 pm

If you're interested in corks you might want to read this well researched artilce on the Malt Maniacs site.

http://www.maltmadness.com/mm17a.html#17-15
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Postby Di Blasi » Sun Apr 30, 2006 10:07 pm

Funny though! Wine is more sensitive and vulnerable to cork, yet should be stored laying down, in direct contact with the cork! And whisky should be stored upright! And no fear for the cork to dry out after years of storing it this way, even though the cork, I would assume, may shrink over the years cause it's smaller. And the higher content of alcohol in the bottle of whisky would perhaps dehydrate and ruin the cork, defeating it's purpose. But yet it's best to store whisky standing up???
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon May 01, 2006 3:08 pm

Has anyone actually encountered "corked" whisk(e)y?

Is is possible that the higher alcohol content of whisk(e)y is sufficient to kill off the mould that causes contamination of wines? If so, perhaps we should store the precious on its side after all :?
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Postby Di Blasi » Mon May 01, 2006 3:24 pm

Yes, perhaps it's best to store whisky on its side. Or maybe the high alcohol content will eat away at the cork or something. But it seems, over time, whisky does best standing up, as it seems collectors store them this way. But do they do that for display purposes maybe, since they know they won't be ever opening the bottle??
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Postby Lawrence » Mon May 01, 2006 4:38 pm

Yes, perhaps it's best to store whisky on its side.


This is incorrect, NEVER store your bottles on their sides, always upright, out of sunlight. The high alcohol strength can eat away at the corks.

Late last year I had a corked Cardhu 12, it tasted like wet cardboard.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed May 03, 2006 9:21 pm

I suspect these are two different problems--in the case of wine, an infection; in the case of whisky, dissolution of the cork.
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Postby parvus » Wed May 03, 2006 10:31 pm

All this talk of corks dissolving etc has me interested, so i'm conducting a small, rather unscientific trial of my own on two sections of a cork.

Both pieces of cork were put into sterile plastic vials, along with 15mls of whisky. One vial contains whisky at 60% ABV, the other contains a milder 46% ABV. I realise this is somewhat flawed, being slices of cork, but I don't have two spare corks handy, and that would create problems of its own, with different types of cork etc.

I'll report back with changes, if any, in several weeks.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed May 03, 2006 10:48 pm

Excellent! Assume you will hth unspoiled and "tainted" samples. Await your report.
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Postby parvus » Wed May 03, 2006 10:54 pm

I didn't intend to drink the whisky afterwards, but that's a good idea. Not entirely fair to compare the small samples in vials vs. samples poured from a bottle, but i'll do it.

Now that the test is under way, how about we have a guess as to the outcome:

a) both corks remain intact for the duration of the experiment.
b) cork A (60%) shows a slightly higher rate of decay.
c) cork A shows a much greater rate of decay.
d) alcohol strength appears to have little to no effect on the rate of decay.

I'm personally hoping for the most extreme results possible, with the 60% ABV cork completely disolving in the whisky, with the 46% being only slightly damaged.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Wed May 03, 2006 11:30 pm

Sounds great Parvus, and a good initiative - for how long will your experiment last?

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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed May 03, 2006 11:48 pm

It could be that the corks will show no visible signs of decay, or nothing obvious, while still leaching material into the whisky. That's why I think a taste test is in order.
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Postby parvus » Thu May 04, 2006 12:23 am

Mr Fjeld wrote:Sounds great Parvus, and a good initiative - for how long will your experiment last?

Christian


I'll have a look at the corks in two weeks and see if there is any noticable change to their appearance, if not - i'll continue the experiment on for another two weeks.

I didn't have enough vials for a control of each whisky, so there is only a control of the 60% whisky. I'll do a head to head tasting of the 60% from the bottle, from the control vial, and the cork vial.

I'd like to do the test on a larger scale on a wide range of corks and cork sizes, but that's not possible at the moment.
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Postby Di Blasi » Thu May 04, 2006 3:20 am

Plastic parvus?? Did you say you're testing the corks in plastic containers? Interesting you bring that up, cause I am considering using small plastic containers to send a friend a few samples of whisky. But my concern is with the high alcohol content of the whisky, 55%-63%, left in the plastic containers for almost 3 weeks before he'll sample them. Will the alcohol consume the plastic? Or will the plastic consume the whisky, before my friend has a chance to taste them??
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Postby parvus » Thu May 04, 2006 3:39 am

Di Blasi wrote:Plastic parvus?? Did you say you're testing the corks in plastic containers? Interesting you bring that up, cause I am considering using small plastic containers to send a friend a few samples of whisky. But my concern is with the high alcohol content of the whisky, 55%-63%, left in the plastic containers for almost 3 weeks before he'll sample them. Will the alcohol consume the plastic? Or will the plastic consume the whisky, before my friend has a chance to taste them??


These are special inert vials sent from a scientist friend. I would suggest you try and get some medical/lab plastic vials or just go with sterilized glass, I wouldn't personally run the risk putting whisky for tasting in anything other than glass or plastic designed to hold alcohol.
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Postby Di Blasi » Thu May 04, 2006 3:58 am

Thanks for the extra info parvus! If they are actually purchased at the local pharmacy, to be used for "urine samples," with screw caps, do you think that will be good enough?? Glass will be tougher to find, plus the chance of them breaking since they'll travel and pass some hands before reaching their destination is what I'm concerned about too.
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Postby parvus » Thu May 04, 2006 5:19 am

Di Blasi wrote:Thanks for the extra info parvus! If they are actually purchased at the local pharmacy, to be used for "urine samples," with screw caps, do you think that will be good enough?? Glass will be tougher to find, plus the chance of them breaking since they'll travel and pass some hands before reaching their destination is what I'm concerned about too.


I'm not sure about that, I wouldn't want to risk it. What brand is the company that manufactures the urine sample jars you were considering sending? They might have a website, and they might be able to tell you if they are safe for use with alcohol. I'd also be weary about using urine sample jars, simply because if customs open the package and look in and see several jars of urine colored liquid, they're going to destroy that package pretty quickly.
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Postby Jan » Thu May 04, 2006 5:23 am

Di Blasi wrote:Thanks for the extra info parvus! If they are actually purchased at the local pharmacy, to be used for "urine samples," with screw caps, do you think that will be good enough?? Glass will be tougher to find, plus the chance of them breaking since they'll travel and pass some hands before reaching their destination is what I'm concerned about too.


I'm with Parvus on this one; go for glass or at least make sure that the plastic container is guaranteed suitable for storing alcohol based solvents.

My guess would be that the pharmacy containers is not suitable. (Even if there is no discernible off taste to the whisky after storing, there's still a risk that some unhealthy stuff has leaked into the whisky.)

Loch Fyne whiskies sell 10cl glass sample bottles which are quite good and sturdy. You can order some at their website at a reasonable price. (But be aware that postage will add a substantial amount to the end price.)

Cheers
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu May 04, 2006 5:31 am

I wonder what urin does to cork :roll:

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Postby parvus » Thu May 04, 2006 5:50 am

If I had another vial, i'd test for you.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu May 04, 2006 7:30 am

parvus wrote:If I had another vial, i'd test for you.

No need to Parvus - my doctor prefers it fresh out of the cask!
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see the results of the spirit affecting the cork!

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Postby Di Blasi » Thu May 04, 2006 11:18 am

Smart thinking to check with the company parvus, thanks again for your help! I'll look into it, and check the website or something. It will actually be hand carried from me by a friend to another friend, so customs shouldn't be a worry. Well, unless they get stopped while travelling? That could be funny though, or maybe not.
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