Corky Whisky

Most people know the problem with bad corks from Wine bottles. But can Whisky bottles also develop a corky taste like Wine bottles? The answer is a definite yes!

Although sensitivity varies from connoisseur to connoisseur, the problem of bad corks occurs with Whisky as well. Of 3000-5000 bottles sold, there is one customer compaint of a corky Whisky. This figure is much higher for Wine with a ratio of 1:200. As people react differently to this phenomenon, there are even Whisky connoisseurs who do not even notice the corky taste and to whom the Whisky tastes quite normal.

What is corky Whisky?

The corky taste is a substance called '2,4,6-trichloroanisole' (abbreviated TCA), which is a chlorine-containing chemical compound. This immediately brings up the next question: How does chlorine get into a cork?

Cork is made from the bark of the cork oak, which is grown in Portugal among other places. From time to time, this bark, like other plants, is affected by fungi. The owners of cork oak forests, however, logically want the full proceeds from their cultivation. In order not to make any losses and to be able to sell all their cork, the owners spray the trees with fungicides containing chlorophenol. Bacteria in the trees now digest the chlorophenol and turn it into TCA, which eventually escapes from the cork into the bottle. And although the cork bark is of course thoroughly cleaned in the cork production process, these decomposition products of the bacteria cannot be removed and affect the entire contents of the bottle.

An EU regulation provides relief: For some years now, cork oaks have not been allowed to be treated with chlorine. So the problem should solve itself over the years. Whisky merchants and their customers would benefit from this: merhcnats no longer receive complaints or returns and customers no longer have to deal with corky Whisky and complaints.

Whisky corks by Copenhagen distillery
Whisky corks by Copenhagen distillery

How do you recognise a corky Whisky?

TCA is extremely intrusive and has a strong smell. It gets stuck in the nose or even in the brain, so that you can hardly enjoy Whisky afterwards. One cannot get rid of the corky Whisky’s olfactory experience that evening.

This phenomenon leads to customers complaining that they received three bottles of Whisky, all three of which taste like cork. This is highly unlikely and probably because their memory could not shake off the cork taste of the first Whisky they tasted.

To be absolutely sure, you should always smell the cork first. If you think you can smell something on the cork, it could be a normal cork smell. Sometimes the appearance of the cork can also mislead us: if the cork is darker in some places, it does not automatically smell different. In this case, one should first pour some Whisky and smell the glass. Most of the times, it turns out that our eyes played a trick on us and the cork cannot be smelled at all.

Very often only the penetrating TCA in our nose is giving us the run around. Approach the matter again after one or two days. And if you already had a corky Whisky one evening: Let it be for the day.

Hopefully, the subject should be settled in one or two decades at the latest.