As pointed out in this excellent blog post on Whisky Science, the origins of sulphury notes in whisky are hard to pinpoint. Often wine or sherry casks are singled out as the culprits, supposedly tainted by the use of sulphur candles, but there’s no real evidence to suggest excess use of these candles in the sherry industry.
Also, there’s good and bad sulphur in whisky. I sometimes find sulphur notes in whisky that actually sort of enhance the flavour palette. Sulphur comes in different forms, and some compounds make for meaty aromas or grapefruit even. That doesn’t sound too bad, right?
Jim Murray has been ridiculed for a lot of things actually, but one that has always stood out to me was his critique of sulphured whiskies. He spent a large part of the introduction of his 2013 Whisky Bible warning about the dangers of sulphur. ‘We’re facing crisis time’, is how he described it.
I don’t know if I would go that far, but there are certainly examples of sulphured whiskies that I found quite baffling. It is beyond me how some of these withstood the scrutiny of a master blender or even a nosing panel. And then again, simple economics prove me wrong most of the time.
The best example is probably this monstruous 20yo Deanston, but today’s subject also fits the bill. The Glen Garioch 15 Years Sherry Cask is undoubtedly sulphured — and yet very popular. It scores well on Whiskybase too. Must be me then…
Glen Garioch 15 Years Sherry Cask Matured (53.7%, OB, 2019)
Nose: Intense with an undeniable amount of sulphur. Hints of forest fruits, cassis and bitter chocolate. Whiffs of pepper and nutmeg, as well as a hint of soy sauce. Taste: More sulphur, what a shame. Pretty dry and somewhat sour with spicy notes of nutmeg and black pepper. A touch of tobacco laves, as well as marmelade. Finish: Medium in length. More of the same.
This falls squarely in the category of ‘Wouldn’t recommend this, but still drinkable’. The sulphur is too present for me, distracting from what otherwise would be a good whisky.