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Issue 29 - Bottle where's the science?

Whisky Magazine Issue 29
March 2003


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Bottle where's the science?

In Issue 27, Martin Isark argued that whisky aged in the bottle. His views have provoked a storm of opposition. Here Peter Wood makes the case against Isark's theory

So, Martin Isark has uncovered an industry conspiracy to conceal from us drinkers the fact that our malt changes in the bottle? He is in good company, if a little late in the piece, for back in 1967, Professor McDowall had the following to say; “It continues, however to improve in the bottle … but for some reason, which I do not understand, the idea that a change takes place in the bottle is not generally approved of.”

Then why have we been gulled for so long? Because, I suspect, this whole matter revolves around the possibility of sensory changes close to the limit of human detection. Hence there will be those who claim that whisky does change in vitro, and those who say it does not.

Martin Isark asserts that tasters have long realised, despite scientific assertions, that whiskies evolve in the bottle.

Which scientists are these then? To find out what scientists say, you must read their formal publications, in arcane journals such as Food Quality and Preference, and the proceedings of the Aviemore conferences on malting, brewing and distilling.

I've searched through tens of seminal papers on whisky flavour development, and none deny the possibility of change in the bottle. There is, in fact, a complete blank on the topic, suggesting that in vitro changes are of trivial import as an area of research.

But I doubt any chemist would claim that a mixture containing hundreds of possible reactants is immune to change merely because it is in a glass bottle.

Granted, som...

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