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View Full Version : The Bad Bottle – the legend, the myth, the reality



spun_cookie
02-27-2009, 17:15
Everyone in a while you will see “this bottle is not as good as others have said it is, must be a bad bottle” or “this does not taste like I thought it would, the bottle must be bad”

I know Chuck believes that this happens very, very, very rarely, and he is probably right, but bad bottles do happen old and new.

For a fact I know you can get a bad bottle if it has been leaning where the bourbon is touching the cork. It will eat that cork and become “corked”

I know you can get a bad bottle of it has been leaking over a long period of time and “other” things have gotten back in.

Some bourbons if they are leaking air for long enough change dramatically from what went in on bottling day.

I am a believer that if it is left in the sun for a long period of time, whether it is cork or screw cap, it will turn due to a number of chemical activities.

I also think that you can get a micro environment in a bottle and leach from the plastic in a plastic bottle and from the cap (the rubber and plastic) usually due to sun and heat.

I am not so convinced that you get many new bad bottles that were bad from the distillery. So much time and care goes into ensuring that a distillery is not sending off bad juice from contamination, impurities, bad corks, etc that they would loose too much money not to ensure that the juice is not good leaving the distillery.

Now I do believe you can get bad single barrels. I have taste some SBs I think are really bad, maybe not “spoiled” but sure taste bad (EC 18yr from 1989, Willy Wallace WTKS, and a few others.

I have had a couple bad bottles, usually due to corking, which is a very distinct taste to me. I have also had 1-2 that were oxidized to the point that they were rotten.

Greg Gilbert had a AH Hirsch Gold Foil that tastes to me that it was bad from the day it was bottled and if I had to guess, it was the bourbon in the tank that was against or sitting in the valve area for way to long. The glass, cork, etc were perfect, but it was a really bad bottle of bourbon.

So, Chuck, et al,
What are your thoughts?

ggilbertva
02-27-2009, 18:49
I want my $69.95 back......

NYtaster
02-27-2009, 19:03
I agree for the most part with the premis of this post. There are many more reasons for a bottle to go bad after it goes to distribution rather than a problem at the source. I've had one bottle where I believe that was the case, either a bad cork or it just wasnt stored right at some point.

Something that is really starting to bother me though is that there are more and more bottles out there that are sold as premium "single barrel" or what not and taste like nothing special. Not to pick on any one bottle but the EC18 really seems to be the best example.

I know the popularity of bourbon has gone up very quickly but the distillers need to keep their integrity or it will all be for naught.

Stu
02-27-2009, 20:40
I noticed that twice EC18 was mentioned. That is my favorite Heaven Hill product. I admit it is very woody and smoky, to the point of being earthy, but that's what I like about it. If you don't like that earthiness it will be easy to find bad bottles. I'm not an Old Forrester fan, so any time I drink OF, it would be easy for me to find a bad bottle. I think a lot of it has to do with your taste and the mood you're in. I have times when a bottle that I normally love tastes "off". Two nights later that same bottle may be as good I remember. I agree there is such a thing as a bad bottle, but I think they are rare. Try putting it away for a couple of days and trying again. Do that twice and if it still tastes bad, compare it to a new one. You may then find you have a bad bottle.

Edward_call_me_Ed
02-28-2009, 05:25
Yes, there are bad bottles and you covered most of the reasons. I have bought one corked whiskey, a scotch, Highland Park 12 yo to be precise. I took it back and got another bottle and it was much better. It still wasn't bourbon though.

The sunlight example was interesting. I have a bottle of Jim Beam White Label 8 yo Japanese market bourbon. No real idea how old it is. My guess it that it was bottled in the 80s or earlier. The seal on the plastic screw cap was fine. The red ink on the front of the label was faded almost to white, but the ink on the back was bright. It wasn't in direct sunlight, but the window in the front let in plenty of light. The whiskey was cloudy, the only time I have seen this, I think. But the Bourbon was wonderful. It still is. I had two pour in the last week or so. Only two skimpy pours left or one generous pour.

Some, not all, bottles of Blantons have an earthiness, if you like it, or a mustiness, if you don't. I say a brief prayer before opening a bottle of this, "Please, let this be an earthy bottle!"
Ed

spun_cookie
02-28-2009, 07:24
I noticed that twice EC18 was mentioned. That is my favorite Heaven Hill product. I admit it is very woody and smoky, to the point of being earthy, but that's what I like about it. If you don't like that earthiness it will be easy to find bad bottles.

I like the EC 18 a lot. I c0ould not drink enough of the 1980-1983 bottles. i had a 1990 and liked it, it s just the 3 1989s that have been trash to me. More than smoke and oak, those are what I like in the EC 18, it was the heavy metallic and mildew taste that turned me off in that one.

Now I am not a Scotch Drinker and this one may have been perfect for a heavy peat fan.

StraightBoston
02-28-2009, 10:22
(Emerald -- I'm finally going to crack open my 1989 EC18 this weekend and see if it's as bad as you and Andy report!)

I have an Old Fitz Prime that had been near the front window of the package store long enough for the label to fade. It had a very rancid "off" nose when I first opened it, but to quote the Dead, the bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean. After several months open, it has "un-oxidized" to be a very normal pour.

I'm not a big fan of the newest Ritt BIB that I poured for VBT#176 compared to older versions -- like a pine tree -- but I think it fits in the range of a rye whiskey rather than a "bad" bottle. The reports of "musty" Buffalo Trace probably fall into that category as well.

jburlowski
02-28-2009, 13:37
I agree that you have covered most of the reasons for "bad bottles". I've only had two that I would consider "bad".

The first was a botle of Sam Houston which may have been corked (although the cork appeared fine on inspection). It was the only bottle I have ever poured down the drain.

The second was the infamous WR4G... definitely bad but perhaps intentionally so. When I complained, BF graciously had me return the bottle and refunded the purchase price.

funknik
02-28-2009, 17:28
(Emerald -- I'm finally going to crack open my 1989 EC18 this weekend and see if it's as bad as you and Andy report!)

Don't get me involved, Kevin, :) I like the EC18 and have defended it many times -- but I definitely see how many others could dislike it and I think it could be improved upon with less of a "sharp" woodiness. As far as bad bottles, I agree with Emerald -- I think most of the time it is the cork.

I have had three bad bottles in the last 6 months and all were brands that I am familiar with and like immensely: 2 bottles of EC12 and a Baby Saz. They all had the exact same taste -- a "sharp" woody must that overpowered the entire flavor of the whiskey. Because they're from different distilleries and because I know what they're supposed to taste like and because I've tasted the same thing in bad bottles of wine, I think it is clearly the cork. They all came from the same store & distributor.

Cork taint happens and I think it is very easy to recognize & diagnose -- I have only been in the whiskey buying game a short time and have been affected numerous times, so I think it's just luck of the draw.

OscarV
03-01-2009, 05:31
We could start a thread titled "The Most Controversial Bourbon".
EC18 would win, hands down.
There have been times that I thought it was from The Holy Grail and other times I swore it came from that talking snake.

ILLfarmboy
03-01-2009, 18:08
Someone up-thread, I don't remember who, and I don't have my eyeglasses on at the moment, said something about a gray or gray/green funk on a cork. I've seen plenty of gray waxy funk on fat large diameter corks like OGD 114. When I have seen it it has always given me pause but I only had one bottle that seemed to go bad from this. An Old Forester Birthday Bourbon several years ago. It to had a suspicious amount of waxy gray along the cork's cracks and imperfections.

MissingKY
03-01-2009, 19:07
I've never had a bad bottle, and I've opened quite a few.

I've always been curious, though, about old bottles of bourbon that came in boxes, like the gift boxes I've seen in lots of VOF and VVOF auctions. It seems like if somebody held onto a bottle for several decades, it would probably spend some time on its side with whiskey touching the cork. Have any of you folks who have been lucky enough to get such a bottle had any problems with it? I feel like I see boxed bottles of Booker's laying on their sides in liquor stores pretty frequently, and it sort of pains my heart.

- Ethan

ILLfarmboy
03-01-2009, 21:25
I feel like I see boxed bottles of Booker's laying on their sides in liquor stores pretty frequently, and it sort of pains my heart.

- Ethan


I see the same thing around here, with anything that comes in a box, I've even told liquor store personnel that that's not the way to store spirits with cork closures. But doesn't seem to do any good.

StraightBoston
03-02-2009, 06:32
I'm doing an experiment with an EC18 that I just opened -- not bad per se but with an off note in the nose. I'm intentionally oxidizing: shaking vigorously, then leaving the cap off for 10 minutes; lather, rinse, repeat.

It already seems to have taken that nose off -- I'll seal it up, let it sit, and revisit tonight or tomorrow night.

(Note that EC18 comes in an enclosed box -- so I can't blame anything on sunlight -- and the cork is in perfect condition.)

Buffalo Bill
03-02-2009, 09:01
Everyone in a while you will see “this bottle is not as good as others have said it is, must be a bad bottle” or “this does not taste like I thought it would, the bottle must be bad”

I know Chuck believes that this happens very, very, very rarely, and he is probably right, but bad bottles do happen old and new.

For a fact I know you can get a bad bottle if it has been leaning where the bourbon is touching the cork. It will eat that cork and become “corked”

I know you can get a bad bottle of it has been leaking over a long period of time and “other” things have gotten back in.

Some bourbons if they are leaking air for long enough change dramatically from what went in on bottling day.

I am a believer that if it is left in the sun for a long period of time, whether it is cork or screw cap, it will turn due to a number of chemical activities.

I also think that you can get a micro environment in a bottle and leach from the plastic in a plastic bottle and from the cap (the rubber and plastic) usually due to sun and heat.

I am not so convinced that you get many new bad bottles that were bad from the distillery. So much time and care goes into ensuring that a distillery is not sending off bad juice from contamination, impurities, bad corks, etc that they would loose too much money not to ensure that the juice is not good leaving the distillery.

Now I do believe you can get bad single barrels. I have taste some SBs I think are really bad, maybe not “spoiled” but sure taste bad (EC 18yr from 1989, Willy Wallace WTKS, and a few others.

I have had a couple bad bottles, usually due to corking, which is a very distinct taste to me. I have also had 1-2 that were oxidized to the point that they were rotten.

Greg Gilbert had a AH Hirsch Gold Foil that tastes to me that it was bad from the day it was bottled and if I had to guess, it was the bourbon in the tank that was against or sitting in the valve area for way to long. The glass, cork, etc were perfect, but it was a really bad bottle of bourbon.

So, Chuck, et al,
What are your thoughts?


***I'll ditto all of the above, all experiences I've had throughout the years.

i tend to think that the worst is SUN and the influence of direct sunlight by establishments either leaving their product sit in a sunny window near the bar or a bottle that hits too much heat in transit, especially during the hot summer months. Certain products travel better than others for a myriad number of reasons....

As for a bad barrel, been there too... there's a difference. Doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

I'd like to learn more about "oxidation" and the reasons behind it. Is it largely due to a foreign particle entering into a bottle once opened or grain, or dust— whatever it is, it seems to be random.

BB

cowdery
03-02-2009, 17:39
I'll echo MissingKY. I've never had a bad bottle, and I've opened quite a few myself. That's why I say that while they do exist, bad bottles are very rare.

If you open a bottle that just doesn't taste quite as good as you remember it, that's not a bad bottle. That's the fog of memory.

The caveat is that I've never had a bad bottle from recent production. I have experienced many bad dusties, especially when corked or in ceramic containers.

The Boozer
03-03-2009, 08:20
I'll echo MissingKY. I've never had a bad bottle, and I've opened quite a few myself. That's why I say that while they do exist, bad bottles are very rare.

If you open a bottle that just doesn't taste quite as good as you remember it, that's not a bad bottle. That's the fog of memory.

The caveat is that I've never had a bad bottle from recent production. I have experienced many bad dusties, especially when corked or in ceramic containers.

I agree (never had a bad bottle) and I have been drinking almost as long as Chuck.

I suspect that the alcohol in the bourbon or any bottle of booze, would kill any possible fungus or mold in the bottle or on the cork. Most likely taste buds differ from day to day. Any bad bottles send them my way for testing.
I thought drinking and fog of memory go hand in hand :grin: .
TJ

etohchem
03-05-2009, 13:24
Corked bourbon, my nemesis. Corks biggest downfall, 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole has a detection level in wine of 0.2 parts per trillion. It is slightly higher in whiskey but not higher than 0.5ppt. Undrinkable wine is usually in the 0.4 to 0.7 parts per trillion level. Alcohol does not kill cork taint. Cork taint is actually a chemical left behind by naturally occurring bacteria in cork trees. The cork industry tells us that they have reduced the amount of cork taint to around 1-2%.
If a cork has taint, it is immediate. Cork taint will not happen over time in the bottle.
The smell/taste once learned is unmistakable. Many complaints of musty BT or undrinkable Blanton’s are attributed to cork taint. The heartbreak is when it comes in the antique collection.
The cork can and will deteriorate, usually by drying out, and leave particles and pithy taste when it falls into the bourbon.
Why cork? Because people like it.

Etohchem

scratchline
03-05-2009, 16:22
Great post, Etochem! Finally some hard data on cork taint. Very informative. Big thanks.

-Mike

Squash
03-05-2009, 19:33
I second Scratchline.

The Boozer
03-15-2009, 19:57
Corked bourbon, my nemesis. Corks biggest downfall, 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole has a detection level in wine of 0.2 parts per trillion. It is slightly higher in whiskey but not higher than 0.5ppt. Undrinkable wine is usually in the 0.4 to 0.7 parts per trillion level. Alcohol does not kill cork taint. Cork taint is actually a chemical left behind by naturally occurring bacteria in cork trees. The cork industry tells us that they have reduced the amount of cork taint to around 1-2%.
If a cork has taint, it is immediate. Cork taint will not happen over time in the bottle.
The smell/taste once learned is unmistakable. Many complaints of musty BT or undrinkable Blanton’s are attributed to cork taint. The heartbreak is when it comes in the antique collection.
The cork can and will deteriorate, usually by drying out, and leave particles and pithy taste when it falls into the bourbon.
Why cork? Because people like it.

Etohchem

Eto,
Does the cork taint affect the taste of the actual whiskey or can one decant a bottle and "save" the whiskey? Or is the bottle lost?
TJ

etohchem
03-16-2009, 11:00
light cork taint can be lessened with airation but not completely go away. heavy cork taint is lost. If you get a corked BT product, save the bottle and call the number on the back. If you don't get our customer service person leave a message and she will call back. I like to get these bottles back for analysis and you will recieve a refund, if we get the whiseky back. By the way, Scratchline, I am originally from dunlap, (concord) and family still lives there.

Etohchem

etohchem
03-16-2009, 11:02
Sorry meant to say Squash, not scratchline, though I lived in Manhatten for a while too.

StraightBoston
03-16-2009, 11:14
Truman: Does the wine trick of decanting into Saran Wrap work to remove cork taint from whiskey as well (or is there some other potential reaction?)

funknik
03-16-2009, 11:16
light cork taint can be lessened with airation but not completely go away. heavy cork taint is lost. If you get a corked BT product, save the bottle and call the number on the back. If you don't get our customer service person leave a message and she will call back. I like to get these bottles back for analysis and you will recieve a refund, if we get the whiseky back. By the way, Scratchline, I am originally from dunlap, (concord) and family still lives there.

Etohchem
Truman, the amount of expertise and light you have shed on this "corked" whiskey problem is extremely helpful & useful. That being said, I have, personally, sent a bottle back to BT and received a refund -- it was a bottle of Saz Jr. which I was trying for the first time. For this reason, I didn't send it back immediately and waited to see if it changed or if it was supposed to taste that way (yeck!), but like you said, I find cork taint unmistakeable. Needless to say, I eventually sent it back, received my refund and very nice communication from BT & Sazerac including a voice mail stating that the product was found to be within "brand standards." I still thought maybe it could just be me, but I doubted it. Overall, aside from tasting that swill, the whole experience was fantastic. Eventually I bought myself another bottle of Sazerac and, of course, loved it, so my conclusion is that this bottle was definitely "off" but maybe acceptably so.

This thread follows my experience:
http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11274&highlight=sazerac+customer+service

Once again, it's great to have you on the site, your presence and knowledge is heartily welcomed!

etohchem
03-16-2009, 11:29
Boston, I have never heard of this trick but don't know of any reason it should or shouldn't work. try it and let me know. I will too.

Funknik, I do remember your sample , personaly wrote the report, and kept up with your post. An issue with complaint samples is that it is unsafe to TASTE them. I know you wouldn't, but some deliberately adulterate, so we do not taste as a rule for our saftey. We must go by smell alone and my response that it "met standards" does not mean that you were wrong in your experience. We just didn't find anything. It is possible that it was cork tainted. Taint shows up first on taste and if stronger in the nose. I do hope your experience was a good one and I am sorry you didn't find the bottle satisfactory. We are always working to lesson the occurance but at present time it is impossible to remove it completely.

Etohchem

funknik
03-16-2009, 11:35
Funknik, I do remember your sample , personaly wrote the report, and kept up with your post. An issue with complaint samples is that it is unsafe to TASTE them. I know you wouldn't, but some deliberately adulterate, so we do not taste as a rule for our saftey. We must go by smell alone and my response that it "met standards" does not mean that you were wrong in your experience. We just didn't find anything. It is possible that it was cork tainted. Taint shows up first on taste and if stronger in the nose. I do hope your experience was a good one and I am sorry you didn't find the bottle satisfactory. We are always working to lesson the occurance but at present time it is impossible to remove it completely.
Wow! So we have a personal connection. :grin: I had sort of wondered how you could test for things without tasting them and it makes sense that you can't. Of course it would be dangerous, that should've been obvious to me. My experience was excellent and I'm pretty sure it was cork taint not musty barrel or anything like that....I think the BT products are great and appreciate that nobody bats 1000% all the time -- it's even more vindicating to know the details of this and gratifying that I was given a second chance to try a whiskey I ended up really liking. Thanks again!

Bourbon Geek
03-16-2009, 19:43
Great thread here ... I totally agree with Chuck. Most of the product gone bad that I have come across was older stuff that had been just lying around ... most of that was product originally bottled at or above 86 proof that was not chill filtered.

Even with what appears to be a sealed closure, over time, (especially if left on it's side or in sunlight) there will be a lowering of the proof of the product, as alcohol preferentially evaporates ... once the product drops below 86 proof, a cloudiness or chill haze will develop. Over a lengthy period of time, it can get as thick as Mississippi River mud if left to settle out. Generally, and especially in the early stages, this is only an aestetic defect as the taste and aroma remain essentially unchanged... eventually, however, the taste and aroma will be effected as well ...

There is one cause of bad product that I have seen from time to time ... and it is only noted by certain people chemically sensative to it ... That would be either Geosmin or 2,4 MIB. Both of these compounds can be found in surface waters, especially during drought conditions, and can potentially find their way into product in a number of ways ... For those sensative soles, the taste for one would generally be described as earthy to fishy and the other earthy to dirty socks ... Fortunately, the vast majority of us are blissfully uneffected at all by these off notes.

chefnash51
03-17-2009, 08:14
I stopped in a new place over the weekend to see what they carried. My eyes immediately caught the top row of shimmering whiskeys. The sun was pouring in the window and flowing through every bottle on the top shelf.

It was quite a sight to see..and there were some decent bottle for a nice price.

... . I left empty handed.

squire
03-21-2009, 21:23
It is rare but can happen. When it happens it is noticeable in the aroma and taste. I took mine back to the merchant and got a replacement/refund.

ElasticalGomez
04-16-2009, 16:27
well, i'm glad i read through to the end of the thread and though i'm not glad i have smelt it, i'm glad i saw the word "socks". the first smell i got from my first bottle of Sam Houston was "socks" and thought "hmmm, maybe it's just me. maybe that's really butter or something. surely it couldn't be feckin' socks, could it?"

and then i inspected the cork and it had a little, well...a divet that looked like rot with some barely visable white-ish particles in there. maybe like dried/evaporated sugar. the cork was dry and a bit of dust was noticable on the lip of the bottle after i pulled it off.

the bourbon tasted musty, earthy and a bit too much like dried wood. i've thrown the cork out, am airing the bottle and crossing my fingers.

jburlowski
04-18-2009, 12:55
well, i'm glad i read through to the end of the thread and though i'm not glad i have smelt it, i'm glad i saw the word "socks". the first smell i got from my first bottle of Sam Houston was "socks" and thought "hmmm, maybe it's just me. maybe that's really butter or something. surely it couldn't be feckin' socks, could it?"

and then i inspected the cork and it had a little, well...a divet that looked like rot with some barely visable white-ish particles in there. maybe like dried/evaporated sugar. the cork was dry and a bit of dust was noticable on the lip of the bottle after i pulled it off.

the bourbon tasted musty, earthy and a bit too much like dried wood. i've thrown the cork out, am airing the bottle and crossing my fingers.


Had a bad bottle of Sam Houston once... it was one of the few bottles that I've actually poured out (and not saved for cooking).

funknik
04-18-2009, 13:32
I just sent a bottle of EC12 back to HH for testing and a refund . . . it was terrible and I'm pretty sure it wasn't corked . . . the cork was one of the nicest looking ones I've seen and it had no offending odor. When I let my sister-in-law smell the juice, she almost puked.