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View Full Version : why doesn't whiskey age in the bottle?



FlashPuppy
06-12-2006, 16:36
i have been searching a lot of threads about the proper storage of whiskey, and i was wondering, why doesn't whiskey age like wine does? what makes it so much different. how come with wine the temperature, humidity, the bottle laying flat and others i don't even know make such a difference, but not so with whiskey? i am just curious, and i figure that someone here would have a good answer for me. thanks in advance.

Gillman
06-12-2006, 16:44
Some have theorised whisky does mature in the bottle. A Professor McDowell did work in the field in the U.K. in the 1960's, specifically with bottles of malt whiskies held for 35 years. The research was referred to in An Encyclopedia of Drinks and Drinking by Frederic Martin (circa 1960's). Martin stated of McDowell, "(he is) an authority for whom I have absolute respect". Martin conceded though that the theory that whisky does not improve in bottle has "some scientific basis". Of McDowell's theory, to which Martin evidently subscribed, the no less evidently somewhat aged Martin wrote, "I am sorry I cannot wait". :)

Gary

bluesbassdad
06-12-2006, 16:49
For previous discussions on this topic try here (http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/showthread.php?p=12784#poststop), here (http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/showthread.php?t=1317&highlight=bourbon+age+wine)and here (http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/showthread.php?p=276&highlight=bourbon+age+wine#post276).

Just to give you an idea of the power of the Search function within SB.com, I found those threads by doing an advanced search on "bourbon age wine" (IIRC) in the General Bourbon Discussion forum. Oh, and I find it convenient to display results by post, not by thread.

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield

Gillman
06-12-2006, 17:15
It is certainly true that there has been discussion before here, and I know I have quoted Martin on McDowell before, yet each time I do so I give it (perhaps) a different spin. The other thing is, since the earlier posts, one can gain experience (I can only speak for myself on this particular issue). I sampled some Old Charter 12 years old that I found not that great when opened and then sampled it again, not long ago, in a bottle by now 1/4 full, two years later. I was astounded how much better it was the second time. One can extrapolate (perhaps) that a full bottle might show the same improvement over 30 years. Also, one SB-er recently said until a bottle is half-full he doesn't consider it suitable for best drinking. I now think I agree with this. In noting all this, I don't in any way wish to take away from the value of plumbing the earlier posts. It can only assist a full understanding of these issues (at least to the extent they've been addressed here). There really is a wealth of material here and it is salutary of one of our members to remind of this. I'm only explaining why I repost the same information periodically, i.e., I try to give it a different spin or add more information.

Gary

Gillman
06-12-2006, 17:48
Now I'd like to focus on the commonly accepted reason for the idea spirits do not mature in the bottle. The high alcohol content is said to prevent or at least retard the kinds of reactions one sees in bottles of (some) wines. The key is oxidation, which is the slow conversion of some elements of the liquid by the chemical interaction of oxygen with these secondary constituents (fusel oils in the commonly used term), which process creates fragrant, fruity esters and other pleasing compounds. Yet, spirits can evidently oxidise too. But it takes much longer than for wine or beer. If you empty a bottle of wine by 50%, probably in two days it is no good, at least red wines unchilled will be. But spirits will be fine and this has impelled many people to think they last forever unchanged. They do in the sense that a bottle if kept well-closed and not spoiled in some way (e.g. exposed to rank odours) will last 10 and 20 and more years, there can be no question of this. My own belief is that spirits were such a prized commodity until recently, a luxury by any definition, that they weren't allowed to hang around, and thus systematic research on whisky maturation was not done until recently. Even if spirits can mature in bottle, this seems however more of theoretical than practical interest. To wait 35 years and then see if one's Glenlivet 12 is better than half-a-lifetime ago, I mean, who will bother with that...?

Gary

Nebraska
06-12-2006, 19:42
Gary if you chill a bottle of red wine would it stay fresher longer?

FlashPuppy
06-12-2006, 19:46
judging by some of the things whigh i have been reading, i will go out on a limb and say that the cooler temperature would stunt the microbial growth, therfore yes.

Nebraska
06-12-2006, 19:51
lol...of course I can only think of a handful of times , or less, that a bottle of wine has sat around our house for more than two days...

Tricky
06-12-2006, 20:27
Gary if you chill a bottle of red wine would it stay fresher longer?

Yes red wine will "keep" longer but the caveat is to put it in the refrigerator and 'remove' the excess air by pouring into a smaller bottle (spring water bottles work for this) to try and get the ullage as small as possible. On the rare occassions I have half a bottle left over that's what I do .... the next day I pour a glass, 'nuke' it for 15 seconds in the microwave and it is as good as new. Oh horror of horrors I hear the wine enthusiasts baying - it is perfectly acceptable to microwave red wine and I have yet to notice anything negative in the taste.


lol...of course I can only think of a handful of times , or less, that a bottle of wine has sat around our house for more than two days...

I'll second that :D

NorCalBoozer
06-12-2006, 20:51
I sampled some Old Charter 12 years old that I found not that great when opened and then sampled it again, not long ago, in a bottle by now 1/4 full, two years later. I was astounded how much better it was the second time. One can extrapolate (perhaps) that a full bottle might show the same improvement over 30 years. Also, one SB-er recently said until a bottle is half-full he doesn't consider it suitable for best drinking. I now think I agree with this.
Gary


My experience has been one more of "compression". Most old bourbons (by old, I mean the date when they were bottled) seem to compress.

What seems to happen if you let the old bourbons sit and get some air is that the bourbon "decompresses". The flavors expand and the experience is not only better but the overall taste is longer, from start to finish.

Most old bourbons that I've let decompress have gotten much better with the introduction of air over several hours (for a newly opened bottle)

If you go back and search on old bourbons, like VVOF, you see that people get a sense that it's very "alcoholic" but that it opens up into a multitude of flavors.

A bad bourbon can also "decompress" into even a worse taste. Dougdog had several bourbons that I believe he commented got much worse over time.

This does not seem to happen with newer bottled bourbons in my experience. Greg.

cowdery
06-12-2006, 21:23
If whiskey does change in the bottle, which has become the focus of much of this thread, it doesn't change very much, unlike wine which can change a lot or even, if aged too long or under bad conditions, spoil.

The most significant difference between the two beverages that accounts for this difference is alcohol concentration. Wine is typically 12% alcohol, which is pretty good at stopping some microorganisms, but can't, for example, stop the Acetobacter bacteria from turning the alcohol into acid and thus converting the wine into vinegar. Whiskey in the bottle is at least 40% alcohol and often more. That's enough to kill all the little beasties.

That all wine ages in the bottle is another myth. Only a few wines improve in the bottle, while most change little or at all, except in bad ways.

NorCalBoozer
06-12-2006, 21:52
If whiskey does change in the bottle, which has become the focus of much of this thread, it doesn't change very much, unlike wine which can change a lot or even, if aged too long or under bad conditions, spoil.

The most significant difference between the two beverages that accounts for this difference is alcohol concentration. Wine is typically 12% alcohol, which is pretty good at stopping some microorganisms, but can't, for example, stop the Acetobacter bacteria from turning the alcohol into acid and thus converting the wine into vinegar. Whiskey in the bottle is at least 40% alcohol and often more. That's enough to kill all the little beasties.

That all wine ages in the bottle is another myth. Only a few wines improve in the bottle, while most change little or at all, except in bad ways.


Chuck, do you think long ago bottled bourbons get better in taste and flavor with the addition of oxygen?

FlashPuppy
06-12-2006, 22:21
Chuck, do you think long ago bottled bourbons get better in taste and flavor with the addition of oxygen?

i think that is the wrong question. i believe that i would change it to, HOW does adding oxygen change the taste and flavor in long ago bottled bourbons?

cowdery
06-13-2006, 00:18
I can say that just about the only bad thing that can happen to whiskey in the bottle is too much oxidation.

Gillman
06-13-2006, 04:30
And for most people that just isn't an issue, i.e., unless they keep small amounts in the bottle over a long period. The question of improvement or degradation is to my mind really a theoretical one. Even full bottles kept, say 10 years will in my view taste exactly like they did when issued and probably if kept longer (unless bad odours got in from say a stuffy basement). Liquor of 40% ABV or more is very robust and for all practical purposes stable. But I believe the technical answer to the original question is, one should not assume whisky will not change in the bottle. Oxidation will proceed very slowly over time. Nothing stays the same in nature, in other words. But unlike with wines, some wines, this has little or no impact on drinking culture. The only effect it has is that letting the drink breathe as NorCal suggested decompresses it or opens it up. This is also what is likely happening with the half-full bottle of Old Charter I had for two years. This effect is noteworthy but it is not really a bottle maturation in the sense people normally would use that term.

About wine, in one of Parker's newer books he has some interesting things to say about bottle maturation. He claims it often makes little difference to California wines and some others. As I recall, he said wines are so well made today that they don't evolve in the bottle as much as in former times, they are too "clean" in other words. Maybe too because wines are stronger today (13-15% ABV vs. 12% and under of 20 and 30 years ago) the extra alcohol assists them to stay the same longer. I find his arguments persuasive although I've had little experience sampling older wines.

The good news for tipplers of Napa and other fine vintages is, they may not get a whole lot better - enjoy them now.

Gary

gr8erdane
06-13-2006, 23:55
I got the same advice from the store manager at a local winery's outlet. Of course if I open it and drink it I have to replace it.....CHA CHING!