Tuesday, April 10, 2012


"This Whisky is sulphured, it's horrible"
"I don't get any sulphur"
"I like it"

When it comes to sulphur in whisky, opinions gets divided, and thats on every level imaginable.

 There's two origins of sulphur in whisky. At least to what I know of. One is from the wash. Distilling with copper equipment helps removing these sulphur compounds. Everyone who has been to a distillery might have noticed the blue coppersulphate crystals in the spirit safe. This is the copper reacting with the sulphur, and the result is a solid - coppersulphate which crystallises where the spirit runs.

Springbank is clearly unlikely to contain sulphur :-)

 The other source of sulphur is from various wine casks that for some reason or the other can be "contaminated" with sulphur compunds. Sulphur candles can be used to sterilize casks or sulphites can be added to wines for preservation effects. Most notable ex-sherry casks, but this might be due to ex-sherry casks being the most common alternative cask to ex-bourbon casks. 

 Here's a list of observations I have made drinking whisky, talking whisky and watching others talking and drinking whisky. Where sulphur is involved that is. Here we go :

1. Not all ex-sherry whisky is sulphured. Most likely they are not.
2. Some people hate sulphur in any disguise. Some people like it, or can accept it to a certain degree. 
3. We have different sensitivity to sulphur. Some people can easily detect it, some can not detect it all.
4. There are different kinds of sulphur. The sulphur in a whisky can result in a range of different flavours. It can emerge as flavours which for me has given associations to rubber, plastic, spent matches, rotten eggs, an ashy sandy dry kind of sulphur and I've seen cabbage notes being grouped as originating from sulphur  as well. So sulphur is not just sulphur, it is expressed as a great range of various tasting notes and associations.

 People also experience different sensivity to all these different kinds of sulphurs. I do for sure. I have a harder time picking up the stroke match kind of sulphur than most others, but an easier time finding any rotten sulphur or any rubber/plastic sulphurs.

 This has put me in situations where I am having a whisky which everyone saying "noooooo don't buy it. It's horrible, sulphured and disgusting." When I tasted it, I couldn't find anything wrong with it. 
 I have also been accused of being oversensitive to sulphur, quite often actually. Detecting sulphur in a few bourbons didn't help me as I seem to be almost the only one doing that :-)

So everybody more or less has to make up their own mind how they will react to a whisky that is said to be contaminated by sulphur. Just because another person finds a whisky sulphured, you might not. Or you might like it. Or you might not :-)

Do I like sulphur? Usually No. 

But sometimes a slight rubber/latex hint is a very positive tasting note to me. Two of my all time favourite whiskies had a slight rubber/latex hint. They were both peated-sherried whiskies, one being a Benriach 1984 cask 1048, and a Port Charlotte cask 895

But it has to be a hint, if it gets too much I am done as well. 

Tasting whisky and picking up flavours is often about associations. When I pick up a faint hint of latex/rubber, I always get a picture like this on my mind. No wonder I like that :-)

Finally a little advice. If your bottle of whisky is sulphured and you have a little trouble with it, try leave it for a bit. The content can improve and the sulphur can disappear or diminish. 

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