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The Bad, the Weird, and the Ugly: Whiskey’s Wildest Tasting Notes

Most whiskeys stay within certain respectable limits, flavor-wise: caramel, vanilla, oak, spice, fruit, smoke. But on the wild frontiers of the whisk(e)y world, things get weird. Personally, the funkiest note I’ve ever detected in a whisky is horse (yes, horse, as in horses, the animal), which was definitely weird.

But it gets weirder. We scoured the web for the wackiest, wildest tasting notes we could find, from the off-kilter to the unexpectedly poetic to the straight-up disgusting.

Bourbon tasting
image via Steve Coomes

Some whiskeys sound bad, but are actually good?

AnCnoc Peter Arkle (Whisky Magazine)
“Touch of mashing cereal, and then, in a positive way, enamel paint”

Laphroaig 10 Year Old (Master of Malt)
“…amidst the classic iodine/sticking plasters and cool wood smoke we love”

Rogue Chipotle Whiskey (The Whiskey Wash)
“Chlorinated, peppery, somewhat gag-inducing… This tastes just like that brick-red Chipotle Tabasco sauce, which I love on scrambled eggs, but have so far refrained from adding to my Manhattans.”

Brora 30 Years Old (Whisky Magazine)
“Foursquare and solid. Musk. Lanolin* and a butyric** note. Smoke, cigar leaf, wet leather.”
*ie, sheep skin grease
**ie, vomit

Some whiskeys inspire vivid imagery and poetic analogies:

 Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey—a Prohibition-era “medicinal” whiskey (LA Whiskey Society)
“Cardboard shavings. Not nice sweet amazon.com cardboard – old UHaul dirty cardboard.”

Scotch Malt Whisky Society 66.27 Foodie Dram (Whisky Magazine)
“Seems a bit uncoordinated, like a young untamed horse.”

H5 Iced Single Grain (Whisky Advocate)
“The predominant aroma of corn husks is mixed with a sentimental schoolroom whiff of white glue peeled from the fingertips.”

Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask (Whisky Magazine)
“Here’s oak being used as a Romulan cloaking device to hide young(?) spirit.”

Others are just gross:

Littlemill 12 Years Old (Whisky Magazine)

“Fat and buttery to start, then a weird vegetal note emerges alongside something akin to a flat sports drink (Lucozade/Pocari Sweat?) then sulphur, heavily chlorinated swimming pools, cheese and sour baby vomit (ie butyric). Mmmm!!”

Old Thompson American Whiskey (Deadspin)

“It’s monotonously evil in a way that’s hard to describe other than by noting it’s earthy in the bad way, like a shiny mud puddle or a pissed mattress.”

Coney Island Carlo Spirits Bourbon (The Whiskey Wash)

“Did you ever have that moment as a teenager where you wanted to get drunk, but didn’t know where to get beer, and ended up making a poor decision with the rubbing alcohol under the medicine cabinet? I mean, no, me neither, but I suspect that experience would taste something like Coney Island Carlo Spirits Bourbon.”

My personal favorite, from a review of Loch Dhu 10 Year, the infamous “black whisky”:

“It’s intriguingly bad, like the nasal equivalent of a horrible traffic accident – you can’t help rubbernecking to look for body parts. It smells like a full kitchen trash-can after throwing away a burned stir-fry.”

Katelyn Best

Katelyn is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon. She's a regular contributor to the Whiskey Wash with an affinity for the unique and weird side of whiskey.

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