Why Does Scotch Smell Like Band-Aids?

on 22/06/12 at 9:25 am


Peat is a young coal, dug from the earth, dried and burnt for warmth and energy. It's smoke also lends a flavor to Scotch Whisky

Also disinfectant, crude oil, Sharpies, synthetic insulin…

“A friend of mine has type 1 diabetes, for which she injects a synthetic insulin called Humalog. When she does, there’s a quick but very powerful aroma of… Band-Aids. It’s weird. I never thought much of it, until the last time I had a peaty glass of scotch, a drink I’ve never particularly loved. As I took my first sip, I thought, as I always do, that it smelled like… the same Band-Aids. A quick poll of PopSci editors revealed that I wasn’t alone in associating the smell of scotch with non-food: others thought of Sharpies, hospitals, and wood stain.

Why would scotch, a drink beloved by many for centuries, remind people of things that are so thoroughly not delicious? As it turns out, the resemblance is not at all a coincidence.

One of scotch’s most recognizable flavors comes from a group of chemical compounds called phenols, a class of lightly acidic, naturally occurring (but often synthesized) compounds with the formula C6H5OH. Also known as carbolic acids, phenols are crystalline and white at room temperature, but dissolve very easily in water.

A sub-category of phenols called cresols–specifically ortho-cresol–is responsible for the flavor in scotch some would call medicinal. Cresols are very commonly used to dissolve other chemicals, which makes them very useful as disinfectants and deodorizers. The most famous? A little product called Lysol. (Interesting fact, from Wikipedia: “Lysol was also advertised as a disinfecting vaginal douche in mid-twentieth century America.” Let’s all be happy we’ve left those times behind.)”