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Issue 27 - Bottling it up

Whisky Magazine Issue 27
November 2002


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Bottling it up

Martin Isark uncovers the conspiract: whisky does in fact evolve in the bottle, not just the barrel

It happens all the time. Suddenly, new information on food, health, exercise –whatever – confounds all our long-held beliefs, making it necessary to readjust. And it's happened with whisky. For decades, scientists, marketeers – all the movers and shakers of the big brands – have assured us that their blended whiskies are the same from Birmingham to Bangkok, and that malt whiskies, once bottled, will be unchanged from here to eternity. But doubt has been cast.

Actually, the world's tasters and collectors have long realised – despite scientific assertions – that whiskies evolve in the bottle, and the Macallan Distillery has for some time been testing and teasing the collector's market with some interesting bottle-aged whiskies. Last year came the tasting of the 1861 Macallan and its replica – and what a revelation it was. The 1861 was exquisite – with aromas and flavours of red fruits, dried apricots, heather and a twirl of peaty smoke – but what was fascinating was the evidence of ageing in the bottle, in the melting, mature, champagne-like finish with absolutely no burn.

It is accepted that fine wines and vintage ports evolve after bottling, but the high alcohol level of spirits is generally held to ensure a stable, consistent product unchanging in the bottle (not that this holds good for eau de Cologne. Despite its 70% + of alcohol, users well know how it can change – and deteriorate – in time).

Whisky, like most aged spirits, gathers the majority o...

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