Scotch but not American whiskey upsets my stomach. Why?
August 2, 2012 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Why does single malt scotch, but not whiskey, upset my stomach the next day?

Most if not all of the times I've had any of my first bottle of Lagavulin 16, I wind up with a mildly queasy gut and enthusiastic bowels that last a good portion of the next day. I believe this has happened with Laphroaig as well.

It does not happen with any of the American whiskeys I have tried, nor with gluten-free beer. I haven't had regular beer in a while but I don't recall it ever causing this either (I am not celiac, just trying to make my paleo/primal cheats less cheaty).

So, what's in single malt scotch that might be bothering me? I'm going to re-home this bottle, but I'd like to avoid those symptoms in the future.
posted by Earl the Polliwog to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does the same thing happen with single malts that are not Islays? Or, that are less peaty Islays? Those two are near the top of the smokey Islays.
posted by rtha at 6:43 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: Additional information: I have food allergies to peanuts, nuts, some legumes including soy, and some crustaceans. I am not under the impression that any of these would ever be found in whiskey, but correct me if I am wrong!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:44 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: My only real Scotch experience is with those two... I have tried a shot of Ardbeg and don't recall problems, but that might have been too little to set me off.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:45 PM on August 2, 2012

Maybe it's the malt barley? Single-malt whiskies can only be made with barley; American whiskey is generally made from corn or rye. Blended scotches are more likely to be made from rye and/or wheat.
posted by rtha at 6:59 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: Specific whiskeys I've had at least a couple shots of and have not upset my stomach: Maker's Mark, Bushmill's, Jim Beam. Maybe Jameson and Sazerac 6, but I can't say for sure if I had enough of those two.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 7:06 PM on August 2, 2012

Barley has gluten, corn doesn't.
posted by brujita at 7:48 PM on August 2, 2012

Maker's Mark and Jim Beam are Bourbons, which is to say Corn-dominant (as required by law, 51% or greater by weight of grain), probably with rice being the rest. Bushmills and Jameson are blended whiskeys, barely based, and Sazerac 6 is a Rye whisky. So the main difference between those and Lagavulin are the smokiness and the peatiness. That, or the barley aspect of the Irish whiskies is diluted somehow, below the threshold of bothering you.

Or, it could be some kind of outside effect that coincides with your decision to drink scotch.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:49 PM on August 2, 2012

Bushmills is all barley as well. I got nuthin'.
posted by rtha at 7:59 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, it's kind of tough. I can't think of anything else besides the peaty stuff that would have been in common between the times I felt ill (and not the night of, always the next morning an hour or two after I got up).

Perhaps it is something the peat itself.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:04 PM on August 2, 2012

Excepting the occasional special batch, all of those whiskies are, as far as I can tell, barreled in the same thing, American White Oak. Bourbon by (protectionist) law, and the rest of them because there're lots of barrels made by the bourbon industry can only be used once for bourbon.

Ever tried blended scotches, like Johnny Walker? Ever try Scotches from other regions, like Glenlivet (to name a bar-staple)?
posted by Sunburnt at 8:17 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: I have had some Johnny Walker Black and Crown Royal Black with no problem, but the quantity was not very large. Other than Knob Creek (small amount but fine) and Yamazaki (fine and fantastic) that's about the extent of what I've had.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:31 PM on August 2, 2012

The distillation process essentially removes the gluten that is present in the originating grain, so most distilled alcohol should be gluten-free (I say "should" because some have additives that are added after distillation). I am gluten intolerant and have reactions to Maker's Mark, for example, but not to Laphroaig or Lagavulin, or any of their delicious peaty brethren. My suspicion would be that you're either consuming something else that's giving you a reaction and it's coincidental, or it's the peat, though I have no idea if one can be allergic to peat. Or maybe there's some kind of shellfish cross-contamination? Long shot, I know, but other than that I got nothin'.
posted by bedhead at 10:44 PM on August 2, 2012

I have this problem as well and the best I could figure is that there's some other "flavor" in the really smokey whiskies that aren't in the others. I'm not an expert on what's allowed in Scottish whisky but I suspect it's something "natural" and plant based that's setting off my nut allergy in a cross reaction.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:44 PM on August 2, 2012

Whiskey professional here. American whiskeys, particularly Bourbons, when called "straight" can't have any artificial colors or flavors. Scotches can use caramel color; it's common practice for many Scotches to use artificial colors, as they may not on their own appear as appealing as some of the American whiskies. Ideally speaking, the uncolored whisk(e)y wouldn't have any gluten components left in them after the distillation process, caramel color is often wheat-derived.

I don't have my resources here at home (they could be easy to find online, though), and I don't remember the artificial color-status of the two whiskies you mentioned, but you might check for that in your research.
posted by The Potate at 11:18 PM on August 2, 2012

I would agree to follow the peat... maybe try a less peaty whisky - a Speyside or something. All three of the single malts you mention are Islays and are peaty. The barley in the peaty whiskies is roasted over peat, so they are basically soaking in the smoke of burning peat, which give it all the phenols and other combustion chemicals. It tastes great, but it can't be good for you, I've always thought. Quite probably one of those chemicals is the offender if you can manage the other spirits without difficulty.
posted by sagwalla at 1:18 AM on August 3, 2012

I think it has to be either the barrels or more likely (as Potate suggests) a post-distilling additive like the caramel coloring. I'm just thinking that the concentration of substances derived from the cask is going to be much higher than those arising from the peat burned to smoke and dry the malt that's made into the mash that's eventually distilled. Most food allergies are to glycoproteins, which are really tough, but which are also big as hell and not at all volatile, so unlikely to end up in the whiskey distillate. (The molecules that give whiskey its flavors are much smaller - things with maybe 4 to 15 carbons per molecule instead of thousands.)
On the other hand, the way that caramel colorings are produced is treating carbohydrates with heat plus acid, alkali, or salt, to all of which glycoproteins are quite resistant, to make polysaccharides (up to 125 carbons per molecule. So if you're allergic to something in the grain, and the coloring isn't put through a filter to pull out the bigger stuff, that'd do it. Or maybe they use the same peated barley to make their caramel, because that way it acts as a flavoring agent as well as a coloring, and it's still the peat but by way of the caramel.

(I want it to be the peat. Because the peat is where the iodiney seaweed flavor is said to arise, and you are allergic to seafood, so it would be satisfying even though peat is moss, not seaweed. But realistically it's probably either the cask or the caramel grain.)
posted by gingerest at 2:45 AM on August 3, 2012

Hmm. American whiskeys have to be casked in new charred-oak, but Scotches can be casked in oak previously used for sherry, wine or whiskey. So it's probably not the barrel since you tolerate American whiskeys and wine (and presumably sherry).
posted by gingerest at 2:56 AM on August 3, 2012

Regarding casking - all the Islay distilleries we visited (only made it to four, have to go back to get to the others!) cask in American bourbon casks. Further casking may happen in Spanish sherry casks and so on, but all of them seem to use American bourbon casks for the first round, at least for the stuff that most easily available and affordable.
posted by rtha at 6:01 AM on August 3, 2012

Response by poster: Helpful answers so far, thanks all. Just wanted to add that I am not allergic to seaweed, fish, or most other ocean life. AFAIK it's just lobsters and shrimp, and mildly at that.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 7:51 AM on August 3, 2012

Response by poster: Hmm, Yamazaki did cause the same effect. I would think it's either the barley or some other artifact of the production process of Scotch.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:20 AM on December 17, 2012

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