View Full Version : Why Does Scotch Smell Like Band-Aids?
I thought this was a good article from a scientific standpoint. I frequently get Sharpie on the nose with some Islays as well. I tried to explain the malting/peating process to a few members here awhile back but this article does a much better job.
Good post. I never got the band aid taste/smell from scotch, until I started drinking bourbon. Then it became the only flavor I could detect after picking up a bourbon habit.
I had a smokey mescal last night. Oro de Oaxaca that had a good dose of phenol smokey taste
Nice read. The only bourbon that for me does have some phenolic or at least band aid/medical notes is EC 12 which I think is what makes it so disagreable to some. My dad was a doctor and their are smells and tastes in EC 12 that jogs my memory back to his exam rooms. Wonder where that comes from without the peated malt process.
I think the uniting factor is certain congeners - one or more of the co-products of fermentation, being higher alcohols, acids, aldehydes and esters - which carry through the distillation and stay in the spirit unmodified despite years of maturation. Probably, for EC 12, barrels that are more congeneric than others are selected for longing aging by HH. But the taste lingers and can be detected even at 12 years. Aging in and of itself will not efface all such "distillery character", or not all the time. Many factors will influence such tastes, however, e.g. I find wheat-recipe bourbons show little of such character after 5-6 years. It may be that rye, or barley in the case of the malts, produces more of these compounds than corn and wheat. Or perhaps all the grains produce equally the elements that can lead to a band-aid taste - I think this is likely - but spirits made with a larger proportion of one or the other may take longer or shorter to age out, or diminish, the characteristic.
We are talking about co-products that are not left behind in the spent wash, in other words, they come over with the water and ethanol because of low distillation proof whether you use a column still or pot still. I've recognised this flavour in some bourbon, rum distilled at a low-proof and tequila too, or mezcal as mentioned.
No matter what the feedstock is that the distillate comes from, these compounds are produced that often bear a great resemblance. It's all good because these are the true tastes of whisky or the other great spirits - if you rub them out in the method of distilling or aging, all you would have left is wood extract, char or sherry in the case of whiskies aged in charred barrels or ex-sherry barrels, and ethanol which itself is tasteless. You would have brown vodka. What is wanted usually is a balanced drink, one which shows distillery character such as mentioned but is not too strong or unpleasant. Therein lies the skill of the distiller and the taste panels which approve the final minglings but also it is a question of different qualities, and finally taste.
This is a complex matter to be sure because different congeners have different tastes. Some are noted for being fruity, some metallic, some plastic-like, etc. But all to a certain degree even if only a trace one, are part of the final mix of tastes in the drink.
In the case of malt whisky, phenolic peatiness - a vegetal smoke taste basically - covers over other congeneric tastes but never completely. Unless the spirit is distilled to be relatively neutral in character, the tastes linger again in most of the great distilled drinks and is part of their character. Some people prefer a drink that is less assertive for some of the compounds being discussed but still shows the character of the class of distilled spirit it inhabits. Some people just don't like certain spirits and that's fine, probably even small amounts of the compounds that have certain flavours bothers them. E.g. generally I am not a tequila fan, I've tried, but it can never be a personal favourite such as bourbon is, say. I do enjoy the odd glass though and I like to learn more about the drink and mezcal too just because it is so interesting. It's possible too in time I will fully accustom to it, this happened with ouzo and anise-based drinks in general after a long period.
It's all a matter of personal taste as stated above.
All this is IMHO to be sure.
When I first read the title, my first thought was brettanomyces, which can produce 4-ethylphenol in wines and produce that barnyard, bandaid character you sometimes get. It can also produce clove, smokey traits very similar to what you can find in some scotch.
Perhaps this has its roots in the fermentation of the wash? Maybe something in the peating process might contribute to this souring wild yeast gaining a foothold in the fermentation which ultimately is concentrated and carried over in the distillation.
Brett might explain some of it, it's hard to say. It could volatilize I think like other co-products. There is a particular brett in fermentations or probably after-fermentations I notice in some beers and wines too, what the wine tasters call "animal" I believe. Often it's a barnyard taste that can be sourish or tart. I don't get this in spirits really but I am not a chemist and perhaps they do play a role, or are transformed in some way by the distillation and condensing process. A chemist once told me there are many forms of brett and they are not all what beer drinkers notice in lambic say, or a beer like Orval.
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