Whisky Advocate

Ever had a “bad” whisky?

July 26th, 2009

Dr. Whisky added a late comment on my blog posting on whisky reviewers, which included this thought:

I love whisky and give every producer the benefit of the doubt that if they bothered to put it in a bottle it can never be BAD.

Well, let me start out by saying that I like Dr. Whisky (and his blog) very much. I also have the greatest respect for the master blenders and master distillers around the world.

BUT, I have tasted some whiskies the past 30 years that I thought were bad. By “bad”, I mean that the whisky never should have been bottled. Fortunately, there haven’t been many.

The one that sticks with me the most was a Cadenhead’s Talisker that I tasted back in the 1990s. I didn’t keep the details of the whisky. (I wish I did.) All I remember was tasting it, and then dumping the sample (and the the rest of the bottle) down the sink. The wood it was aged in was terrible and ruined the whisky. Did anyone else taste this one?

There is a lot more attention to details these day. I think the chance of getting a truly bad whisky is slim. You might not like a whisky because it is too young, too old, too overly sherried or whatever. But, the whisky is still drinkable, and there’s someone out there who will buy it and enjoy it.

Have you ever tasted a whisky you thought was bad? If so, what was it, and why did you feel that way?

(Be nice, now. I don’t want this to turn into a whisky bashing session.)

56 Responses to “Ever had a “bad” whisky?”

  1. Josh Kolchins says:

    It’s pretty rare that I come across a downright bad whisky, but it does happen. Having heard a lot about Rick Wasmund and the innovative stuff he’s doing at Copper Fox, I grabbed a bottle of one of his Single Malts as soon as I saw it in my local liquor store. It was pretty raw stuff: aged 4 months (!) and tasting and smelling of little but the smoked cherry wood that was used to dry the malt. I went back to the bottle several times in hope of finding something that would make me reconsider; after all, the guy’s gotten a lot of praise in whisky circles and I try to be open minded, but I couldn’t convince myself that it was anything but bad whisky. Not bad quality, mind you, just bad tasting stuff.

  2. Red_Arremer says:

    This will probably get some people angry, but Elijah Craig 18 would be my pick. Generally, I think that an intense new oak influence can temper a bold, big spirit in an inspiring way, especially if there’s some rye in there. But on the EJ 18 I had finish was grittier than a mouthful of muddy leaves.

  3. John Hansell says:

    Yep Red, I think some will disagree with you on that one.

    Josh, have you tried any of the more recent Wasmund’s? I did at WhiskyFest Chicago this past April. Much improved, I think.

  4. Leorin says:

    I agree that there is such thing as bad single malt and not every cask that has been bottled and sold as single malt should have been.
    I had a lot of wine finished or matured malts that didn’t work for me and I came to the conclusion that this combination often does’nt work for me.
    I also had an almost undrinkable soapy Edradour once.
    Even though I Cadenhead’s is one of my favourite IBs I remember two remarkable bad malts from this bottler. One was a Longrow which you can even consider a distillery bottling, as Springbank and Cadenhead’s belong to the same owner. This expression (1996 – Nov. 2006; 10 y.o.; Bond Reserve;Cream Sherry Butt, 50,4%) was very sulphury in an unpleasent way. The same bottler released a tasmanian malt that was even more odd than I expected it to be.
    I also recall a peated Jura C.S. that smelled like rotten kohlrabi (can’t remember who bottled this monster).
    Even if this idiosyncratic malts were unpleasent I’m glad I tried them because it is always interesting and educative to see what mistakes and problems can occur during the process of production and maturation.

  5. Josh Kolchins says:

    John,
    Thanks for the tip! I will definitely revisit the Wasmund’s.

  6. Shaun Farrier says:

    Well, I’ve been enjoying whisky for about five years now. In this time I’ve tried to keep an open mind, and have bought numerous ‘off beat’ bottles. Some were pleasant surprises, and some were a tad under-whelming.

    With this being said, I’ve only purchased one bottle that I simply couldn’t drink: Auchroisk 15yo Murray McDavid – Syrah cask. I guess this might appeal to someone who really likes strawberries………

  7. NW says:

    Red, please give Wasmund’s another shot. The bottles from the more recent batches are quite different from batches 8 or 9.

    As for my own bad experiences. Adelphi bottled a 13 or 17 year old Longmorn 3 or 4 years ago. I was fairly new to the concept of independant bottling and had never seen a Longmorn before. Well the spirit itself had a greenish tint to it (I know that should have turned me off, but again, I was new to the Independents and that was completly normal for all I knew.) It was just horrible.

    I was tasting a series of Adelphi bottlings and the others were tremendous so I fell victim to self-doubt and continued to sell the bottle. Last year I had a chance to taste a Chieftain’s bottling of Longmorn and it was fantastic. So good in fact, that I went back to the Adelphi bottling to compare.

    ACK! I have to question the barrel.

  8. Chap says:

    A Signatory Glendronach was just lousy–spent a lot of money for it at a good place that recommended it, and it turned me off of independent bottlings–and that Loch Dhu whisky took a long time to get rid of because it tasted of bad molasses. Ack that was icky stuff.

  9. Quentin says:

    I had a Highland Park specially bottled for the local county liquor board that was so overly sherried that I would never have guessed it came from Highland Park. The dangers of single cask bottlings.

    • John Hansell says:

      Quentin, the biggest risks are single cask bottlings for sure. To make a musical analogy, you shouldn’t be singing solos unless you’re a great singer. Otherwise, sing in the choir. BTW, I have also had some exceptional HP single cask bottlings.

  10. John Hansell says:

    Probably the biggest disappointment for me in recent years was the Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey,which I reviewed here on this blog back in January. Like I said in my review, I love Rogue beers, and I like the people who work there and their attitude. But this was a big disappointment, as my 69 rating reflects. I have been sampling some pretty good young craft whiskeys from the US and abroad. This one let me down. Should it have been bottled? I don’t think so.

  11. murphy says:

    Woodford Reserve Four Grain bourbon … absolutely undrinkable. Unless perhaps you like the taste of a) sucking on a handful of pennies, and / or b) sour, moldering grass clippings.

  12. Adam H. says:

    John, I think you’re right to draw the line between “Bad, as in not enjoyable for me” and “Bad, as in I am seriously unable to drink any of this and it shouldn’t have been bottled.”

    There are some whiskies I personally find hard to stomach — one of the bigger blends comes to mind — but obviously there is a big market for it, or it wouldn’t be the success it is.

    The only “undrinkable” whiskies I’ve come across are those that I believe something happened to unintentionally — either some contaminant entered in the bottling process, or the bottle was “corked,” or some similar fate. I tend to agree that if a whisky is bottled, then _someone_ truly believed the spirit had reached a minimal level of enjoyability.

    As a side note, while the Malt Maniacs cite “OBE” (Old Bottle Effect) as a mysterious process that makes whiskies that have sat in a bottle for a long time taste generally better (or at least different), I’ve encountered numerous examples of something I might call “MBE,” for Mini Bottle Effect. It seems that, after a mini-bottle of whisky has sat around for a very long time (+30 years), it will often exhibit massive soapy flavors, so much so that there’s no way the whisky could have originally tasted that way. One of my partners-in-crime has a theory about this, having to do with chemical reactions between esters in the whisky and leachables in the glass (saponification), and the whisky-to-surface-area ratio of minis… but we’ll save that for another day!

  13. John Hansell says:

    Wow, I find myself in an awkward position–defending some of the whiskies (and whiskeys) some of you think are bad.

    Quentin, yes some of those single cask Highland Park whiskies were over-sherried and not for me. But unpleasant to the point that they shouldn’t have been bottled? Not sure if I would go that far.

    Murphy, some of us enjoyed the second release of the Woodford Reserve Four Grain, including Jim Murray (who rated it in the mid 90’s I believe) and yours truly.

  14. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    well I never came across a bad whisky. I came across bottlings I would neither consider nor touch a second time. But I never had nor will ever have a bad whisky.

    You see, I tried Loch Dhu the über-colloured Mannochmore from years back just once. I have friends who love it. Recently there has been a bottling from a new German independent bottler of a Port Charlotte a whole forum has been raving about. It gives nothing to me.

    So John there is no need nor way to defend the indefensible. All whiskies are made with the best the master distillers and the distilleries have at their disposal.

    So we should respect the craftsmanship of the distiller, the cooper the warehousmen and not speak about bad whisky.

    Bad whisky is not made, it is not existent. Some may not work out in the vatting or may change after being bottled. But no distiller in the world makes bad whisky. Bad whisky is a matter of taste. Nothing else.

  15. John Hansell says:

    Kallaskander, sorry, but I have to disagree with you. I have tasted bad spirit distilled by distillers (these were small new craft distillers still learning their craft). And they later admitted their mistakes and corrected them.

    Also, you have to understand that, while a scotch distiller (for example) might make the best spirit possible, he or she often has no control over what casks the spirit goes into. Historically, a lot of this spirit has gone into casks owned by someone else (possibly with questionable quality control), for blending or whatever. And independent bottlers somehow get their hands on these casks and bottle them, for better or worse. And that’s where the mistake is often made.

    That’s what happened to that Talisker cask I mentioned above. The distiller was long removed from the spirit he produced and probably would have gotten sick to his stomach to find out that his beautiful spirit was put into a rotting cask for aging and then bottled.

    Wood management has come a long way over the past 20 years. And distillers will tell you that in the decades prior to that they have put their whisky (unintentionally)in bad casks. And those distillers would have said, and have actually told me, that the whisky was bad. Fortunately, they would NEVER have bottled these whiskies. But when the whisky distillers lose control over the spirit they produce, anything can happen. And that’s what happened to that Talisker cask.

    (And I’m not trying to bash independent bottlers here. Generally speaking, they put out high quality whisky–including Cadenhead’s.)

    Like I said, maybe 99.999% of the whiskies bottled are just whiskies that we like or dislike (too much sherry, too old, too young, etc.),but someone else will like them. They aren’t bad, though. I have no argument with them being bottled. (I even include Loch Dhu in that category, and will defend it’s right to be bottled–even though I didn’t care for this “experiment”.)

    But, in my 30 years of drinking and reviewing whiskies, mistakes have been made and there have been some (just a few, thankfully) that were bad and shouldn’t have been bottled.

    That’s all I’m going to say on this subject, but I hope that more of you will offer your thoughts.

  16. patrick says:

    I have read most of the posts and I agree with John, when he says that a whisky too sherried is not a bad whisky. It is just a matter of taste.
    When a whisky is too young or too sherry, I might not like them, but this doesn’t mean that they are bad.

    The only bad whisky that I had was a Tobermory/Ledaig distilled in the early 1990s and bottled some years ago from James MacArthur. It was rancid, with flavors reminding me of too old milk. Simply not drinkable. Was the cask faulty, contaminated by mold or was it a cork issue? I don’t know. The whisky that came out of this bottle was not drinkable.

  17. JC Skinner says:

    I’ve never tasted any whiskey ‘finished’ in Tokay casks that didn’t actually make my stomach heave a little.
    This goes for Sauternes and other sweet white wine cask finishes too.
    I don’t pretend to know why it is that these wines add such an off-putting character to whiskey spirit. Nor do I know why, given the fact that my reaction is hardly unique among whiskey drinkers, that distillers insist on attempting a botrytised white wine finish from time to time.
    Yet on whiskey forums all over the globe, if you ask drinkers what whiskey they really hated, or couldn’t finish, or threw down the sink, invariably the bulk of the answers will involve these relatively rare finishes.

  18. Luke says:

    I second JC Skinner on Tokay finishes – and keep in mind that Tokay is my favourite wine!

    For truly outstanding, awfulness Jameson “Signature Reserve” takes some beating – thankfully it’s only available in “Travel Retail”.

    Please do not confuse this with the excellent Jameson Gold, also only available in airports. This a lovely drop and, in my opinion, the best value Jameson on sale.

  19. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    yeah John, that is what your taste buds say. There is or was a Edradour bottling by Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection, 10yo 46%. The collection are all single casks bottlings.

    To me it smelled great and had a nice sherried impact was mouthfilling and sweet and all you could ask for in a young Edradour.

    But when you made the mistake to swollow it the pleasure for me was over imideately. The soapiness that is a key characterisic in Edradour was overdone and that particular bottling tasted of washing up liquid – to me. I never touched it again. But by and by the bottles were sold my retailer told me and some people came back for more.

    So what does that show? I would probably agree to the fact that there are bad whiskies if every buyer or drinker of that certain whisky would say that it is bad. But we will never have all that data.

    It is a matter of taste after all. I do not like wine finihings, Tkaji especially not on top of that. But people buy them and love them.
    What is “bad” for me might be the dream of his life for my next fellow man.

  20. smsmmns says:

    Seems we all clearly know what we like and do not like.

    I like whisk(e)y.
    I love it.
    I love the mistakes, the green iron-tainted bottles, the pale musty rotten oldies, the fishy ones, the pissy ones, the new ones, the wasmunds, the black ones, the white ones, the overpriced ones, the Indian ones, the Canadian ones, everyone’s.

    And although I completely see your points above John, even bad whisky has not been ALL bad, or absolutely BAD: the bad ones have inspired this post, helped your relationship with upstart distillers, your career, and educated your palate. There has to be SOME good in that. It could be a distiction between one who sees whisky making as an art and one who sees it as a science. We would probably all agree it is both.

    I think of film as a parallel in this respect and almost any critic worth their salt would acknowledge that you must know the bad movies to understand the good ones (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Molly Haskell…Leonard Maltin!)

    Or perhaps kallaskander and I choose to wear the same rose coloured glasses and use the BAD whiskies above to marinade mackerel and Loch Dhu to clean our kitchen tables.

  21. B.J. Reed says:

    John, it was a Talisker 17 YO Cadenhead bottling – We actually tasted two 17 YO’s distilled the same year and we described it as the Good and Evil of Talisker because one was superb the the other, well, you know. Jules, Bev, if either of you read this blog comment – it was one of you that helped us do the side by side comparison.

  22. butephoto says:

    I have had several bad whiskies (ones that I wouldn’t touch again if you gave me them for free) such as Ledaig and BlauMaus Spinnaker (and also several other German or French malts that really were woeful and whose names I have blocked from memory). Suggesting that anyone putting whisky in a bottle wouldn’t put anything bad in it is a bit naive. It’s business, and unfortunately in business you sometimes get a bad product on the market.

  23. bgulien says:

    A good distillery manager should always notice the “bad” casks and recask if necessary. If there is nothing to be done, chuck it away.
    If they let the bad whisky through then it is disrespectful to their customers.
    If we can decide it’s a bad whisky, a good manager will notice it also.

    A couple of weeks ago I was in Turkey. I knew they have a Vissky.
    I finally found it and bought it against all the people in the shop urging me to buy J. Walker Red, which was the same price. They thought it was that bad!
    When I told them I have some very special bottles at home, they were ready to alert the padded wagon.
    Back home, I tried to decipher the label, and it’s chockfull of caramel spirit. So I decided to keep it closed until the Mexican Flu threatens. The Vissky should be good enough to keep the virus at bay.

  24. Bev D. Blackwood II says:

    Yes BJ (and John) there is such a thing as the “Evil” Talisker and I still have my bottle! The discussion over on Malts-L finally decided that it was contaminated with paxarette.

    • John Hansell says:

      Thanks Bev, and BJ, for chiming in. Kallaskander, and smsmms (Dr. Whisky), if you could taste this whisky, then you would understand where I’m coming from. Bev, I wish I saved my bottle just as a reference point.

  25. B.J. Reed says:

    Thanks Bev – It was truly evil :)

  26. McClelland’s Islay.

    In Diageo’s stable of terrific whisky resides this essence of “smoke on water.”

  27. Steve says:

    As with all, I’ve experienced whiskies simply not to my taste that now sit at the back of my drinks shelf. I find I break these out when friends who lean more toward those particular whiskies come over. However two were simply mistakes and “unpleasant to the point where they shouldn’t have been bottled.”

    The first was Wild Turkey Sherry Signature (and I buy and love 101, Rare Breed, and Russell’s Reserve). It was duty free only and I figured I wouldn’t get another shot at it since it was limted.

    The second was Woodford’s Sonoma-Cutrer finish. I’m a big fan of Four Grain and keep a bottle of Woodford Reserve in my rotation but the Cutrer Chardonnay finish just didn’t work and was a double hit since it was incredibly expensive.

    I haven’t poured either out simply because I spent money on them, I still have room to house them, they are conversation pieces, and every so often I break them out and sniff to remind myself to read reviews from people I trust before purchasing expensive full bottles.

  28. Andre says:

    Well…it is certainly a matter of taste, and sometimes I have had the experience of opening a bottle, not liking the content, but coming back to it 2-3 weeks later and finding to my surprise that I actually liked that stuff. Taste experiences can indeed even change for the same person with the same whisky. But some are indeed bad. my picks are (in order of increasing dislike):
    1) (here I know, most will disagree) Redbrest 12 – sorry, I found it soapy and too winey
    2) Edradour 10 (tasted 2-3 years ago): I had read that with a change in ownership it had improved greatly, so I decided to try the new crop. What a soapy disaster ! I can hardly try to imagine what it must have tasted like “before” the change. I do not like to pour the content of my bottles down the drain, so I fould out that mixed 50:50 with Old Pultiney I could drink it;
    3) by far the top of the worst – Bowmore Darkest (not the more recent “15 years old” that I actually like, the original version). That was like trying to drink a bar of soap. I managed to finish that bottle too, however, by mixing in a good amound of Barolo grappa. What I found really amazing is that apparently it had received a “double gold” medal (or was it “Best in Show” ?) at a WhiskyFest (perhaps San Francisco ?). I really wonder: how is it possible that a group of expert “whisky drinkers” could actually give that swill anything but a “Double Rotten” medal ?

  29. John Hansell says:

    Andre, I think you will get many to disagree with you on both the Redbreast and the Bowmore Darkest.

    Oh, and since WhiskyFest is my event, I can assure you that we don’t give out medals at any of our events. Maybe you were thinking San Franciso Spirits Competition (not affiliated with us)?

    Steve, I have a bottle of WT Sherry Signature which I have yet to open. Wondering now when I should. I also wanted to say that the Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer is my least favorite of the Master’s Collection, but I don’t think of it as bad. (I know a lot of people who liked it, including my managing editor. I gave him the rest of my bottle, as I recall.)

  30. Andre says:

    Did not mean to offend your event ! I really do not remember, I read it a couple of years ago, but I am sure they did give medals (??) away. May well have been the San Francisco Spirits Competition. But I must say, there are other drinkers who agree with me on the Bowmore (see for example Serge’s opinion on WhiskyFun!)

  31. Chris says:

    I’ve tried a few independant bottlings with a Medoc Finish that smelled so strongly like vomit that I didn’t even taste them. Also some old Japanese blends (which contain grain neutral spirit) that tasted more like disinfectant than whisky.

  32. Kevin says:

    The worst I’ve ever tasted is Smokehead. Overwhelming salty seaweediness. It remains on my shelf only to have friends try it.

  33. Neil Fusillo says:

    I’ve had one whisky I thought was bad — an old Tobermory 12 that tasted like it had been aged in rubber. I tasted another one that was actually quite nice…. but this particular bottle (and possibly an issue with the cask, but I didn’t keep track of the cask number, unfortunately) REALLY tasted like an old tire. It had no real hint of scotch about it at all and was sort of an unpleasant, chemical tar flavouring. Had I not had a prior 12 that I’d enjoyed, I’d have been completely put off by it, thinking this was just a case of a whisky whose flavour I couldn’t stomach. However, having had one to compare it with, I could tell this one had clearly gone bad. Or started bad. Or been stuck in a bad bottle. Or a bad cask.

    Any way you put it, the badness was evident.

  34. B.J. Reed says:

    I am pretty amazed at some of choices here – While I am not a huge fan of Bowmore Darkest or Red Breast 12 I own both and find them “ok” – I hear a lot of complaining about Edradour being “soapy” and again, not my favorite but certainly not terrible. And then there is Smokehead which Kevin hates but which the Scottish Field ranks among the best, certainly for the price. I personally like the Smokehead quite a bit.

    I go back to John’s point – There is a big difference between preferences and a really bad bottle of whisky – Except for the Talisker that John mentioned I and a few bottlings that clearly were from bad casks and tasted like sulfur I cannot say the whisky should never have been bottled.

    Maybe we should have Bev ship a sample of the Talisker to everyone who has posted and I bet we can get some agreement on that one…

  35. I chime in with B.J. Reed on this, but only partly. You always have to draw a line between personal preference and objective flaws. But how do you definen an objective flaw?

    There may be cases where it is difficult to draw the line. The Tokay finishes are a good example. Some people like that special taste while many others think that this is an experiment that should never be repeated.

    Or take the “bad wood” Talisker from the original post. Perhaps there are some people out there who may actually like this. I can’t really imagine that a renowned company like Cadenhead’s will deliberately bottle a “really bad” whisky. I guess it’s really just a matter of taste.

  36. Maltakias says:

    I think that the worst whiskies i’ve had so far is the “Glengoyne 10″ because of its extreme maltiness(i mean,have some corn flakes with milk if you like cereals so much),and the “old Bowmore 15 Mariner”(so soapy you could wash your dishes with it).

    But of course everything goes down to personal tasting and that’s the true magic of whisky.Even if everybody dislikes it there’s one person somewhere that loves it.

  37. Serge says:

    Hi,
    I think it’s a political issue globally, opposing two main schools:
    1 – The people who state “only my taste counts and if I like Glenthis Zinfandel Finish, it’s good whisky”. There can’t be bad whisky in that case, there will always be people who will like any bottling, even the most ‘esoteric’.
    2 – The people who think that any matter is codified and needs experience before personal tastes can develop. These people believe that there are ‘known flaws’ that may appear in a whisky, and that these codified flaws indicate ‘bad whisky’ when they are detected. Sulphury, over-woody, over-butyric, unbalanced, lacking typicity, offbeat, too flattering and so on. To them, there are quite some ‘bad’ whiskies.
    I feel I’m somewhere between 1 and 2, or rather that my heart tends to be amongst the 1-people, whilst reason leads me to be amongst the 2-ones.
    So let me be PC and claim that there are no bad whiskies, but many that are much ‘less good’ than others ;-).

  38. Tony Menechella says:

    Slaint,
    I have to echo what John originally stated, and what B.J. recently echoed; there’s a huge difference between personal preferences and a bad bottling. I too have bought bottles that were not to my liking, but can honestly say that I’ve never bought one where I’ve said that it never should have been bottled. That’s a huge step to take. It seems to me that this post became more about the former; personal preferences, as opposed to bad bottlings.

  39. Steve says:

    John,

    I decided to give both WT Sherry Signature and Woodford Sonoma-Cutrer another shot. I’m still not willing to claim either as my all time favorite but apologize to the producers of both for saying they shouldn’t have been bottled.

    The WT was finished in sherry casks for a couple of months and then had additional sherry blended in. I’m a fan of Speyside sherry bombs but the natural sweetness of bourbon blended with a fortified wine makes for a syrupy whiskey. Turkey’s spiciness and the sherry’s cherry flavors just don’t mesh. However, people who love the sherriest of sherried scotch and the sweetest bourbons may find something here. I’d love to read your notes on this should you decide to open it up. I’m still a bit annoyed I dragged it all the way to France and back but the bottle cost me less than $40 and has started some interesting conversations among my whiskey drinking friends.

  40. David K. says:

    I bought a Balmenach cask strength from an independent some time ago (distilled in 1979, can’t recall who the independent was). I like cask strength whiskeys, but it was 3-4 more peppery than any Talisker I’ve had, with little to no malt sweetness. It just tasted like a fire in your mouth. Even cut with water (significantly), it was still bad. I never had hated a whiskey until then…

  41. Lew Bryson says:

    It’s true what John says: I did like the Sonoma Cutrer finish Woodford Master’s, and still do. It’s a light, slightly fruity bourbon that nice on a hot afternoon (like today, actually, and I might just knock the level down a bit). But I can see where some might not like it. I’m kinda with ya on the WT Sherry, far as that goes, Steve.

    But bad whisky? I had a sip from a really musty bottle of Old Forester that was my dad’s from the 1970s; hardly fair. But Tangle Ridge…whuff, what a mawkishly sweet whisky. Had to spit it out. Still the Zero Mark on my whisky scale. Although the sip of “Glob Kitty Special Blend” Scotch whisky I had at the Frankfort airport was exceptionally horrid.

  42. Andre says:

    well..not to beat a dead case, but going back to the Bowmore Darkest, I have read the following comment on Whisky Magazine Community View Topic (www.whiskymag.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1846)

    On Dec 8 2004 at 11:19 PM Harry wrote: “(Bowmore Darkest) ..it used to be great stuff, then was terrible stuff, and now is OK, but not great. Too bad, really”

    My point is: what about “batch variability” ???? May be a great subject for the near future

  43. David Stirk says:

    As an independent bottler myself I will be careful what I say here, but, having said that…

    The very worst whisky I ever tasted was a Linkwood owned by Cadenhead’s (I was their cask selector/brand ambassador at the time) – it was vile, like baby vomit and mold and obviously I rejected the cask. My successor later came up to me at a whisky fair and said ‘try this’. It was the same Linkwood but gone were all of the off notes and instead a rich, port and malty whisky was in the bottle. Cadenhead’s had re-casked the Linkwood into a fresh Port pipe. I have always maintained that bad whisky in good wood = good whisky and good whisky in bad wood = bad whisky.

    I am wary of certain bottlers and certain practices – some independent bottlers have got so big that they are incapable to monitoring each and every cask and inevitably there will always be the errant cask that sneaks through (I remember a Teaninich that I bottled that I was later not happy with – thankfully that was quite a while ago).

    When it comes to producers/distillers, really there should be no excuse. I do recall a Craiglodge bottling from Loch Lomond that I threw on a fire – I was actually surprised it didn’t either put the flame out or create some sort of magical fireball that put all watchers into a nauseating trance.

    It is important to remember though that one man’s poison is another man’s perfume. Take for instance the flavour of rubber and/or sulphur – some folk will instantly rubbish a whisky that has even the slightest hint of rubber while others love it.

    As an independent bottler, you can only bottle what you like.

  44. Derek says:

    To me “bad whisky” implies bad tasting spirit. We all have an idea of what a particular whisky brand is supposed to taste like, mainly from past experience and from reading.
    I have tasted malts over the past decade or so and have sampled a few thousand malts .
    My bad whisky experience came from a respectable bottler -Cadenhead and it was their 19 yr Edradour bottled at cask strength that came in a green glass bottle. Having tasted Edradour before I had “visions of sugar plums and raisins” prior to tasting this malt. In reality however, the main taste on the palate was that of “Camay Soap”, with the malt “lost somewhere in the background”! It was soapy water with spirit!
    I suspect someone washed their hands with Camay soap and let the “wash” get into the spirit.At any rate it was a “tainted” malt- the worst disappointment in any malt, ever.

  45. Robert Rentsch says:

    Only one that I considered “bad”, and that was the Loch Dhu black whisky. Of course recognizing that it was being discontinued I bought several bottles on closeout for about $20 a pop. Sold em a few years later for around $200. So this “bad” whisky was actually quite good to me.

  46. Simon says:

    John, thanks for the reassurances on the newer Wasmund’s. Like the first reply, I too had a bad experience with an early batch. I think it was either batch 2 or 3, very early on. Spotted it at The Party Source in Bellevue, KY a couple years back, and decided to give it a go. Very, very raw tasting. Tasted sort of like kerosene smells, with lots of wood, and not much character. Definitely the worst whisk(e)y I’ve ever tried.

    Still, even then there were hints of promise, and to hear that Rick has improved his product considerably is definitely refreshing news. I always like to see the little guys make out. I’ll look for a later bottling next time I make it to a Binny’s in Chicago, as that’s probably the closest place to me (western Michigan, now) that’ll stock it.

  47. Tim P says:

    I would say my least favorite whisky was the Longrow Tokaji 10 year old. I thought it tasted like soy sauce, and I just hate soy sauce.

    Several other people I’ve talked to really liked it so I think all this bad whisky talk comes down to personal preference 99% of the time. The other 1% may very well be just bad wood, as David Stirk said above.

  48. When I just reviewed my tasting notes, I came across one whisky that I think would qualify to be mentioned here. After all the comments about “bad wood”, this specimen was just the oppisite.

    It was a Linkwood 1996/2006 from Dun Bheagan that tasted solely like sugar water. Could this have been a dead cask ? I love Linkwoods so much, but this was one major disappiontment. Luckily it was just a sample.

  49. I don’t know if it was bad whisky or just way too old, but I tasted a sample of a 50 year old Springbank once. That was terrible. It tasted like old moldy wallpaper in a room without any ventilation.

    Luckily it was a free sample, since it would likely have cost me the price of a bottle of good stuff…

  50. John Lamond says:

    As a number of people have said, there is a difference between personal taste and whisky that should never have been bottled because of inherent faults.
    Managers make spirit to the best of their ability within certain parameters (mostly driven by accountants). What spoils the whisky tends to be the storage, either the wood or its location.
    I agree with those who thought the Thai whisky was disgusting and likewise, the early Mackmyra should not have been bottled. Some of the Japanese whiskies bottled in the 1970s and ’80s were very coarse. You can argue that everybody has to learn sometime, but these were whiskies which I poured down the drain. Around 1992/3, I tasted an 18 year old Mortlach bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in which the wood was so dominant that the whisky was overpowered. The casks(s) should have been bottled about 5 years earlier.
    I heard of a cask of single malt due to go into a blend of Mackinlay’s which had been spoilt by a nail and was marked for destruction, but inadvertently blended with 100 or so other casks. The sour taint was still there. A micro blending was done again and the taint was still apparent. The blend was eventually sold off to a supermarket for B.O.B.
    Several independent bottlers bottle their whiskies too young – the pressures of cashflow interfering again in maturation. There is nothing wrong with the whisky, apart from the fact that its flavours haven’t fully melded together yet.
    One or two old whiskies were disappointing because of their age – the whiskies were worn out and their flavour had died.
    I am a fan of Haig Dimple or Pinch. I bought a bottle at auction (1951 bottling – got it relatively cheaply at the end of the auction) which I used in a class I was tutoring. It had oxidised, all its flavour was gone.
    As John said, the distillers are much more aware nowadays of what is happening inside the cask and blenders are much more careful about what goes into the bottle, so what we drinkers are offered is in much better condition than might have been the case 30 years ago.

  51. Solomon2 says:

    After a shot of the bottle of Canadian Mist I purchased 2 weeks ago I felt quite ill. That’s a “bad whisky” to me.

  52. John Hansell says:

    Solomon2, maybe it was something you ate? I don’t think that Canadian Mist can make you sick with one shot. (Unless alcohol in general makes you sick.)

  53. Chris from Greece says:

    A bit late as I just discovered this very interesting post.

    The worst whiskies (OK blends excluded) I ever had are (in no order)

    1.Bowmore 12yo “Enigma” (aroma was OK but taste awful) & new Bowmore 18y.o.(too soapy), I disagree with others opinion about the “Mariner” and the old “Darkest” which I like
    2. Jura “Superstition”
    3. Longrow Tokaji finish
    and a special bottling for LMDW in France of Edradour (can’t remember details)

  54. Paul R. Potts says:

    I have not tasted more than perhaps a total of fifty whiskies in my life, and I’ve purchased fewer than 25 separate bottles including a number of mini-sized bottles. But of these, there is only one that I can’t drink. It’s the McClelland’s Islay.

    I’ve tasted and enjoyed a number of other Islay bottlings including Laphroaigs, Lagavulins, Bunnahabhains, and Ardbegs, so I don’t think it is a matter of just hating the style. It is reasonable on the nose, and in the initial flavor, but has some kind of a bitter, metallic after-taste that actually upsets my stomach and makes me feel queasy for the rest of the evening.

    The McClelland’s Highland and Speyside aren’t stellar, but I consider them to be drinkable, especially considering the price point. There is something wrong with the Islay, though. The cask that went into this should have been dumped. I’m told it is probably a young Bowmore. It makes me very nervous about the prospect of tasting any other Bowmore, which is probably very unfair to Bowmore.

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