Bourbon and Oxidation

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Bourbon and Oxidation

Unread postby Dump Bucket » Mon Mar 31, 2008 7:23 pm

I have seen many posts and many contradictions, so I thought I would ask a few pseudo focused question that I believe is as much experience as science.

How long does it take to oxidize bourbon after you open it?

What is the impact to taste over time?

Is there a time that you should drink your bourbon once you opened it?

Is the oxidation relative to the amount left in the bottle (e.g. 3/4, 1/2, 1/4 bottle etc)

Again, I can calculate an oxidation rate, but there are so many variable that it would not be relative.

What is y'all experience with the above?

I have a few (probable 40+) different bottles open that I have been working down for a few years. I have not noticed an impact other than my WLW 05 that I had ~3oz left for 6 months and it did taste off, but that could have been me or the particles at the bottom...
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Unread postby barturtle » Mon Mar 31, 2008 8:47 pm

You can calculate the oxidation rate? of what?

I ask because, there are several different compounds that actually affect the flavor and odor of our whiskey. I'd guess that each has its own oxidation rate, as well as some being light sensitive. I'm just not sure how you would go about calculating the effect of oxidation upon all the different substances without knowing the exact percentages of each of those chemicals and how they degrade.

You would also have to know the rate of leakage of each type of seal (cork metal plastic-no seal is perfect).

Also how would you account for the change in atmosphere inside the bottle with each opening and pouring...I doubt that it's a 100% exchange and would even be dependent upon the airflow characteristics of each bottle shape and the amount of vigor of the pour.

Then you would have to recalculate after each pour to factor in the new surface area to volume ratio of both the liquid and the airspace.

Thats some pretty impressive calculatin'.

.....

Okay, basically, I don't worry too much. I now keep somewhere from 6-12 bottles open at any one time, that means I should turn over all my bottles in a year or less.

I have had one or three bottles affected by oxidation, these bottles sat with very little in them for about a year. I used to have 40-60 open bottles, it took me a few years to cut that down to a more manageable number

If you want to have more open than I do, go for it, just pay attention to the ones that are getting low and make sure they don't sit too long. The mostly full bottles should be fine for an extended period of time.
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Unread postby Dump Bucket » Mon Mar 31, 2008 9:57 pm

The equation is not all that bad. There are some assumptions, but it would be close. Even if you wanted to calculate a daily rate with volume change, not that hard, but again, it still does not mean much.

You hit it when you said that there are so many degrees of freedom that you would never really know it exactly and you cannot calculate taste unless you have a proven set of equation for each "style" of bourbon...

Anyhow, you answered the question. Looking for what people have seen themselves.

I did not mean to get this many opened. Impulse to try really. I have been killing off as many as I can. I want to get down to a dozen drinkers and a dozen special.

I have no desire to be the king of the open bourbon.. :king:

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Oxidation

Unread postby ggilbertva » Tue Apr 01, 2008 10:13 am

I purchased a bottle of Old Pogue at the KBF in 2006. It was near empty (maybe two pours left) and I pulled it down the other night. It had turned. The finish was definitely off. So, for that bottle, it didn't take long which surprised me. I did notice that the cork was rather loose so that probably accelerated the turn. I have other bottles that have been open longer and are fine. Go figure.
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Unread postby cowdery » Tue Apr 01, 2008 1:17 pm

As you probably imagine, I drink a lot of bourbon. The first time I tasted a bourbon that had been damaged by oxidation was a bottle that sat on a back bar for something like 20 years with a half-inch of whiskey in the bottom of it. In most other cases, it has been something from a decanter or with an otherwise dicey closure. I've also tasted some that was simply very old (e.g., 100 years) that had some damage.

Some people misidentify cork taint as oxidation damage. I've tasted cork taint, usually from old decanters, much more often than oxidation damage.

I've never had a bottle of mine here at home "go bad" from oxidation.

Note too my use of the term "oxidation damage." Oxidation itself is part of the aging process, it's part of what is going on in the barrel. Like every other aspect of aging, oxidation can go too far and the whiskey picks up some off-flavors. An excessive and unpleasant taste of vanilla is what I usually notice.

I just yesterday communicated with a craft distiller who removed a whiskey he made from the barrel, because it had all the wood he wanted, but he let it sit in stainless for 3 years, in part to get additional oxidation.

Different people have different sensitivities, so that's part of it too. I know some people who feel the taste of a whiskey starts to change as soon as they open the bottle.

But, in general, people make WAY too much of the fear of oxidation damage from partially-full bottles. Yes, you should finish off those bottles that have an inch left in the bottom, especially if you haven't because it's something precious that you can't replace and you hate to see it go. Oxidation damage is real and it is a risk when you have a bottle with a lot more air than spirit in it, but it's not as big of a problem as some people seem to fear.
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Unread postby Dump Bucket » Wed Apr 02, 2008 2:50 am

Now that was the kind of reply I was hoping for. Thank you sir...
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Open Bottles

Unread postby PaulO » Wed Apr 02, 2008 10:31 am

I am aware that there is a device marketed to vintage wine drinkers that want to save opened bottles. This device fills the air space in the open bottle with nitrogen gas. Nitrogen does not react. Guiness charges their pint cans of stout with nitrogen to keep the beer fresh tasting. Here's another idea; pour contents into a bottle small enough to fill compleatly.
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Unread postby Bourbon Joe » Wed Apr 02, 2008 1:23 pm

Paul,
Good advice on both counts.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Apr 02, 2008 1:41 pm

The best advice is to follow Bunghole's mantra and to simply "Drink it man, Drink it!" That way oxidation is a non-issue.

Chuck is right - unless you keep a small amount for years at a time, oxidation is not going to be a problem.
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Unread postby ggilbertva » Wed Apr 02, 2008 10:15 pm

Mike, in my case the cork was loose...it didn't fit snug in the bottle. Whatever the reason, that bottle of Old Pogue went south and I figured it may be because it had about an inch in the bottom on the bottle and the cork was ill fitting.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Apr 03, 2008 1:12 pm

Loose fitting corks can be a problem but that can solved by drinking the bourbon. In the case of Pogue, they will make more.
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Unread postby EllenJ » Thu Apr 03, 2008 3:31 pm

"Oxidation", or more accurately, "flavor changes due to air exposure" is a spectre that has haunted me lately. For years I've been a strong and sure-minded proponent of the idea that "whiskey don't change, even when opened". I have a relatively large collection of tasteable (i.e., open and available for tasting) examples. I am proud to have been able to provide real-time first-hand taste experiences to many who would otherwise never have such an opportunity. But now, like a reformed alcoholic or a jilted lover, I have difficulty understanding how I ever felt that way. Marvin, one of my best friends (two, really if you include his wife -- and bourbonhead extraordinaire -- Evelyn) could (and has, actually) teach a course on just the range of changes a good bourbon will go through sitting in your glass for an hour or two. As Barturtle said, there are layers upon layers of congeners that make up the flavor part of our favorite alcohol beverage, and the better the bourbon the more distinctive those congeners are. Each has its own rate of... well, some call it oxidation but that's only part of it. Mostly its just EVAPORATION. They're all alcohols, after all, and different ones evaporate at different rates. Whichever's most domininant at a given time will affect the aroma. It stands to reason that whatever's affecting the aroma at a particular time, that one's just about ready to LEAVE the flavor profile. That makes the one that was obscured up to now the new dominant flavor. And so it goes, all the way to... well, Evelyn noted that the very BEST bourbons are still cranking out some absolutely wonderful aromas the next morning, while the cloudy goop in the bottom of the glass looks anything but attractive.

So what's my point? It's that, if the flavor of a glass of bourbon changes noticeably after five minutes in your glass (and it does), then it absolutely MUST change at least somewhat every time you replace the layer of air covering it in the bottle. And, while it may take years for it to actually taste "bad", it probably doesn't taste accurately like the original product even by the second or third time the bottle is opened. I have a feeling that the whiskey begins to taste "off" about the time that the level of air in the bottle is such that it allows evaporation of most the "good" congeners and the first of the "nasties" becomes dominant. It's the same in your glass; at some point the whiskey tastes like Barleycorn-poop, and when that happens with your bottle, you generally just dump it (maybe we shouldn't? More research here is needed). And five minutes later it's back to wonderful again.

I'm disappointed that the flavor changes. My orientation has always been toward the history of the spirit, not (not entirely, at least) in the end-consumer flavor; and my faith in that has become irreparably destroyed, I'm afraid. The whiskey's still good, of course. Like Chuck says, you can, with care, maintain a delicious beverage for years. I would think that the nitrogen-replaces-oxygen system would be a big help, especially when combined with positive seal closures. Those work with wine and there's no reason to think they wouldn't with whiskey. I may very well begin using them myself; although it's pretty costly for 450+ examples, and I think it would be enough to use just the positive seal closures to keep overpressure in the bottle. That should discourage evaporation.

As always, though, whatever method you use... ANYTHING you do that allows actual, physical, TASTING of America's most important contribution to products that humans consume, is a major improvement over the museum concept of allowing people to gaze upon the pretty amber liquid in an otherwise untouchable bottle on a shelf.
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Unread postby mgilbertva » Tue Apr 22, 2008 10:20 pm

I had the Old Pogue Greg mentioned, and it tasted like what you get in a corked bottle of wine. Up until then it had been a very pleasant pour.

cowdery wrote:Note too my use of the term "oxidation damage." Oxidation itself is part of the aging process, it's part of what is going on in the barrel. Like every other aspect of aging, oxidation can go too far and the whiskey picks up some off-flavors. An excessive and unpleasant taste of vanilla is what I usually notice.


I had another bad bottle this weekend. Greg and I were over at a friend's with whom we were tasting different bourbons. He had a bottle of '02 OFBB, which had been open for "several years." What Chuck described is a perfect description of what I tasted. Unpleasant vanilla, and the bourbon was just flat, it was lifeless.
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