We Get Letters v.29: Black Whiskey??

This came into the comments section, and was peculiar enough for me to bring it to the forefront.

Beverly writes:

My grand father bought a bottle of Johnny walker Red label 19 years ago and has been saving it for my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary and the whiskey has gone black, as far as we all know whiskey should not go black, we would like a explanation.

Hi Beverly. Thanks for posting your comment. I’ll see if I can reasonably respond to your question, or at least get another reader with more whiskey experience to give their opinion on your issue.

But first and foremost, I want to address a common misconception. Whiskey does not age in the bottle. What I mean by that is if you by a 10 year old whiskey, it means that you have a whiskey that has been aged in a barrel for ten years. If you hold on to that bottle for another twenty years, the whiskey is still technically considered a ten year old bottle of whiskey, and not thirty years old. You may already have known this, but I wanted to put it our there for other fans of whiskey.

Now, as to the color changing in your whiskey, I can only give you educated guesses. The coloring of every whiskey out there comes directly from the barrel in which it was aged. The longer the aging process, the more color the whiskey can draw from the barrel. As mentioned above, once the whiskey is removed from the barrel and bottled, the aging cycle essentially stops, and therefore the coloration should at least reduce and at most stop altogether. So my first thought is that what you have is a bottle that is a bit of an anomaly. i.e. it’s not common that this should happen.

It could be that your whiskey has been exposed to too much light and some of the particulates within the whiskey have been affected by that. This seems the most likely to me. Whether the particulates in your bottle are the same as every other bottle of Johnny Walker Red that had been sold 19 years ago is unknown.This this raises the second issue that there is the possibility that your bottled had been excessively tainted with resin and/or residue from the barrels from which your whiskey had aged. This seems unlikely, but not improbable.

The short answer is – I don’t know. My research into my private library and into several deep checks on the internet turned up anything useful. My guess is that the whiskey collectors out there can provide better answers and more first hand experience than I. Let’s hope one or two of them are reading today.

(UPDATE: I have an answer, five years later!  Hard water has a high amount of minerals, including iron. Iron is not a fan of several of the compounds found within the oils and other solubles that result from being aged in a cask.  When these are combined, a chemical reaction occurs which turns the coloring from tawny to black. Hence, black whiskey.
So how did the hard water get into the bottle? Either the whiskey was made with hard water (which is unlikely), or someone opened the bottle, had a nip or two, and replaced the whiskey with the hard water).

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