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wood-finishes

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wood-finishes

Postby Bart » Sun Feb 13, 2005 12:58 am

Do you think a wood-finish does inprove the whisky, and for at least how long should whisky be in the finishing cask to get the right 'finish'.
If you do like wood-finish what would be your favorite one?

Slainte
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Postby rthomson » Sun Feb 13, 2005 2:49 am

I'm still a relative newbie in judging whisky but I've enjoyed whiskies aged in casks that had previously been used for different purposes. That is, a cask that had been used for sherry will provide various flavors, colors and aromatics that differ from a cask used for port. Comparing the different finishes lends itself to a nice evening. As for the minimum amount of time, I really wouldn't know where to begin on that. It will probably partly be determined by the interaction of the cask and whisky as well as the preferences of the individual.

Just thinking about it is making me thirsty-

Ron
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Postby Bart » Sun Feb 13, 2005 9:13 am

A lot of distilleries are on this 'wood-finish' and sometimes I think this is just for the money and not so much to enhance the whisky.
Saying that I have had some good wood-finishes, to think of just one would be the Chieftains 11yr Coal Ila rum finish.
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Postby Admiral » Sun Feb 13, 2005 9:43 am

Good topic, Bart!

I have no idea what the optimal time is for a finishing cask, but I have no doubt that it varies from cask to cask, wine to wine, and whisky to whisky.

I believe many finishes have been released in the last few years simply as part of the marketing fad, rather than genuinely trying to create a superior whisky. Finishes are 'flavour of the month', so to speak, and it seems like most of the distilleries are trying to jump on board.

Having said that, there are one or two I've tasted where I've genuinely felt it added a rich and positive dimension to the whisky.

Examples are

Lagavulin Distillers Edition (Pedro Ximinez finish)
Cragganmore Distillers Edition (Ruby port finish)
Bowmore Dawn (Port finish)
Glenmorangie Sherry Finish (initial bottlings from 1999-2001. The last four years have not been as impressive).

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Aidan » Sun Feb 13, 2005 10:42 am

Yes, when they are finishing a whisky in a port pipe, for example, they usually wouldn't leave it in for more than six months because it imparts such a strong flavor to the whisky. Sherry takes longer to impart its flavor.

Distillers believe wood finishes are the new fronteer. They have tried just about everything else to change the flavor profile of whisky, so this is just increasing the spectrum further.

Slightly off topic, as it's not a "finish", but Glenmorangie have been engineering wood in Canada (I think Canada) that matures whisky better. I tasted their standard versus a new version aged 10 years in the engineered wood, and the latter was better by a country mile, in my opinion...
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Postby Admiral » Sun Feb 13, 2005 11:26 am

Aidan,

Is that the Artisan Cask?

I thought Glenmorangie had long had a policy of sourcing specific wood from North America?

I was at a dinner where Dr Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie was explaining that they source their wood from Missouri. They also air dry the timber, rather than season it by kilning, which is what most other cooperages do.

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Aidan » Sun Feb 13, 2005 11:44 am

Admiral

Yes, I think that's it. I am a bit vague about where the wood is sourced, but he did say that they had invested heavily in growing a particular kind of oak on the shaded side of some mountains or other. The wood thus grows slower, giving it a different cell profile. This is what I mean by "engineering." I got the impression that this is only now starting to pay off. I suppose, they must have been doing it for a long time, in order for there to be matured whiskey from this wood on the market...



They also mentioned the air drying bit.

I was impressed by the results, especially as Glenmorangie would not be my whisky of choice.

I've long heard that European oak is better and more expensive than the American oak for maturing whisky. I wonder did they plant some european oak variety out there?
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sun Feb 13, 2005 11:58 am

Aidan wrote:
I've long heard that European oak is better and more expensive than the American oak for maturing whisky. I wonder did they plant some european oak variety out there?


European oak is more expensive than the american one and they inhabit a marked different characteristic. The american oak gives a much stronger "vanilla" flavour than the european oak. The spanish winemakers have traditionally used a lot of american oak and thus have a very strong vanilla flavour in their wines. It's a matter of taste of course but generelly speaking the american oak is not favoured by european wine drinkers because the very strong character masks and even destroyes the "fruityness" in the wine. The french Limousine oak is by far the most expensive and is currently used in the best of french wines and in Cognac too. I seem to remember that "Bessie" of Laphroaig decided that a special version was to use Limousine oak only instead of american oak - can't remember which one though?
Having said that I do believe the vanilla flavour that I so strongly dislike in spanish wine is actually very good in scotch whisky!

Edit: found it:

http://www.laphroaig.com/whiskies/40yo/ ... 0_year_old

Skål!
Christian
Last edited by Mr Fjeld on Sun Feb 13, 2005 3:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby hpulley » Sun Feb 13, 2005 3:22 pm

I'm not a fan of finishes. It smacks of a coverup at worst or a dolling up at best. I prefer to taste whisky rather than wine so bourbon casked is my choice, with no finish.

Harry
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Postby Lawrence » Sun Feb 13, 2005 6:37 pm

While finishes are 'the flavour of the month' (an accurate statement Admiral) it should be remembered how small the percentage of whisky produced is 'finished'. I look at finishes as a sign of a vibrant industry that is trying new ideas to improve their whisky.

Another interesting aspect is that Glenmorangie, the self proclaimed inventor of finishes, has not tried any finishing so far with Ardbeg.

All in all a tempest in a tea pot with the occasional finish that actually works.
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Postby Crispy Critter » Mon Feb 14, 2005 4:30 am

Aidan wrote:I am a bit vague about where the wood is sourced, but he did say that they had invested heavily in growing a particular kind of oak on the shaded side of some mountains or other.


If that was Missouri, then the oak is being grown in the Ozarks. Question is, are they using virgin casks, or are they being used for bourbon first, then being shipped to Scotland?

So far, I haven't tried any "finished" whiskies, but I'm thinking about the Edradour Sauternes finish...
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Postby Lawrence » Mon Feb 14, 2005 4:38 am

My understanding is that the vast majority of the Glenmorangie oak from the Ozarks is filled with bourbon and when it's finished it's time in the US, then the casks, in whatever form, are sent onto Scotland. I beleive the exception is Cellar 13 which is virgin oak.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Feb 14, 2005 7:57 am

I've had quite a few very nice "finished" malts, and I'm all for anything that makes an interesting experience. However, it's hard to escape the feeling sometimes that a finish is being used to cover inferior whisky. And then again I think...what's wrong with that? (Uh oh, am I going to break out in Paul McCartney?) If you can make a flawed whisky saleable, why not? Might it not be a greater crime to do this to a really good whisky?

And if, like Harry, you'd rather avoid the whole issue, then that is always your prerogative.
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Postby Lawrence » Mon Feb 14, 2005 5:32 pm

Further to your comments on poor quality whisky, it's a good point as it's not just thrown out but some effort is made to salvage it, usually be re-racking it for a period.
Last edited by Lawrence on Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Admiral » Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:28 am

Christian,

The american oak gives a much stronger "vanilla" flavour than the european oak. The spanish winemakers have traditionally used a lot of american oak and thus have a very strong vanilla flavour in their wines.


Is that correct? Is the vanilla you speak of actually inherent in the american oak? I thought the vanilla associated with american oak was more because the oak had previously been used to mature bourbon, and it is from the bourbon maturation that the american oak subsequently imparts vanilla notes to the second fill.

Also, I thought the spanish winemakers traditionally used european oak, but - just like the scotch industry - they too are now taking advantage of the fact that there is a steady supply of ex-bourbon casks coming out of the USA for considerably cheaper prices.

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby hpulley » Tue Feb 15, 2005 5:13 am

The charred wood adds the vanilla-like flavors to bourbon, not the other way around (grain spirit contains no vanilla flavors of its own). Wine aged in charred oak barrels also gets a vanilla infusion. The liquid (bourbon, sherry, wine, rum, herring -- just making sure you're awake ;) ) used to 'season' the barrel before being used for scotch maturation affects what is left but the pre-treatment used for each product is also different. 1st-fill use for scotch gets some affect of the previous product and the wood; further refills get less previous product and wood until it needs to be rejuvenated by charring and/or refilling with more 'seasoning' liquid to remove some of the stronger tastes that would overpower delicate scotch malt whisky.

Harry
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Feb 15, 2005 6:19 am

Ah yes, we're all waiting with bated (baited?) breath for that Glenmorangie Herring Cask. Or maybe the Tullisardine.

I have often noted strong vanilla notes in very old single malts. Harry is right, Admiral, this comes from contact with the wood, and the reason bourbon has such strong vanilla flavors is because fresh wood is used.

On the other hand, Harry, I must contest your statement that a barrel "needs to be rejuvenated by charring and/or refilling with more 'seasoning' liquid to remove some of the stronger tastes that would overpower delicate scotch malt whisky". Quite the contrary, the old, tired cask has no flavor left to give. I don't know how often Scotch whisky distilleries do such things to barrels--frankly, I doubt it's done much at all, but that's just surmise--but if it is done, it's done to "exfoliate" barrel surface that has spent too many years in contact with only one fluid--Scotch whisky. If anything, I would think that the "freshened" (charred) barrel might itself be too influential for the delicate malt, just as virgin barrels are generally considered to be.
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Postby Lawrence » Tue Feb 15, 2005 6:21 am

It is done, they scrap out the charring down to new wood and then re-char the cask. The options from then are varied but it is done.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Tue Feb 15, 2005 9:11 am

Sorry all for making such a long and boring post! But there are a few questions I'd like to know more about?

Admiral wrote:Is that correct? Is the vanilla you speak of actually inherent in the american oak? I thought the vanilla associated with american oak was more because the oak had previously been used to mature bourbon, and it is from the bourbon maturation that the american oak subsequently imparts vanilla notes to the second fill.


Cheers,
Admiral

Hi Admiral!
It is indeed correct! The technical term for vanilla aromas is "vanillin", and it's the wood that imprints the bourbon with vanilla aroma - not the other way around. The american oak (Freedom Oak - sorry, couldn't resist hehe) has a considerable stronger vanilla character than its (in particular) french counterpart. That is also what makes it so suitable for scottish single malt purpose. The french oak is too dry but I suppose the Laphoaig Forty (uses Limousine oak) has matured for so long that the limited sweetness available in the wood will be extracted and put to good use with the mellow whisky. The "dry" character of european oak is well illustrated by the fact that the fashion of "finishes" are just that - finishes! The whisky probably wouldn't be very enjoyable if matured in fresh european oak barrels only because of a lack of sweetness.

So what about the ex sherry butts. Now, that's the point where I'm getting confused myself! I read somewhere that contrary to popular belief it isn't the sherry residuals but the wood that leaves the imprint on "sherry whisky". Fine, but does that mean there's a marked difference in the quality between the french and the spanish oak? And if the "bourbon example" is anything to go by - wouldn't it be logical to asume that the sherry wine as does bourbon - draws out the strongest flavours in the wood. So, when you use the solera system (barrels stuck on top of eachother for years - constantly refilled with parts of new wine) wouldn't it be logical to say that there isn't any flavour left worth mentioning because when the cask isn't good enough for sherry it's then sold off to the whisky producers. Hm, despite what I've been reading I'm inclined to believe that it must be "sherry saturated" wood that makes a sherry whisky?

Secondly, there are two ways of making an oak cask/barrel and it might even have an effect on how we judge the colour of our whisky! In order to bend the oak staves into the barrel form you can either steam the wood or use charring. The latter is the prefered method, but also the most expencive way of doing it. It must nessecarily have an effect on the colour of the bourbon - but does it affect the whisky? I don't know, but I wonder if whiskies like the Ardbeg 10's lovely pale white wine colour is a direct result of steamed barrels? Or does the bourbon absorb all of the colour?



Also, I thought the spanish winemakers traditionally used european oak, but - just like the scotch industry - they too are now taking advantage of the fact that there is a steady supply of ex-bourbon casks coming out of the USA for considerably cheaper prices.

Spanish winemakers have made good use of both, but american oak has in many of the largest regions (Rioja for example) been dominant. I belive it's about to change mainly because of two factors. Firstly, the market is increasingly asking for young and fruity wines with little maturation. Secondly, the premium market niche for matured quality wines is getting more focused on the quality of oak flavour - that it's better integrated and balanced in the wine instead of being an overpowering flavour - like many if not most spanish wines used to be.

Skål!
Christian
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Postby hpulley » Tue Feb 15, 2005 2:19 pm

MrTattieHeid wrote:On the other hand, Harry, I must contest your statement that a barrel "needs to be rejuvenated by charring and/or refilling with more 'seasoning' liquid to remove some of the stronger tastes that would overpower delicate scotch malt whisky". Quite the contrary, the old, tired cask has no flavor left to give. I don't know how often Scotch whisky distilleries do such things to barrels--frankly, I doubt it's done much at all, but that's just surmise--but if it is done, it's done to "exfoliate" barrel surface that has spent too many years in contact with only one fluid--Scotch whisky. If anything, I would think that the "freshened" (charred) barrel might itself be too influential for the delicate malt, just as virgin barrels are generally considered to be.


MTH, I'm sorry for the confusion. I have been unclear. I think we are in agreeance. After many uses the cask becomes tired and can impart no more flavor so their rechar bourbon casks, rechar and refill sherry casks. I said the refreshened barrel may be too harsh for single malts so they may do a quick first fill of grain whisky to tone it down a bit.

The sherry casks are not just different because of the wood. I know of no virgin sherry casks being used. All have sherry in them before, even the ones which Macallan has made to order where I think they just throw the sherry down the drain rather than bothering to sell it. First-fill sherry matured whiskies have some sherry in them, drawn out from what was deeply soaked into the wood; refill uses get less and less sherry until it is just tired plain wood.

Harry
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Tue Feb 15, 2005 4:10 pm

hpulley wrote:
The sherry casks are not just different because of the wood. I know of no virgin sherry casks being used. All have sherry in them before, even the ones which Macallan has made to order where I think they just throw the sherry down the drain rather than bothering to sell it. First-fill sherry matured whiskies have some sherry in them, drawn out from what was deeply soaked into the wood; refill uses get less and less sherry until it is just tired plain wood.

Harry

Hi Harry!
It wouldn't be a sherry cask unless there had been any sherry in it I suppose. Anyway, I'm sure there's a difference between spanish and french oak although I'm not at all certain the difference is pronounced. Could also be because of the climate I suppose. Anyway, not all sherry tastes sweet and nutty - actually, the Manzanilla is very dry and it's notes are fruity with apple and citrus and quite salty. So there's no reason to expect dried apricot or raisins in all sherry whiskies (didn't Macallan produce a "Manzanilla" whisky once? ) . As I wrote in my former post - you cannot use a fresh cask to mature whisky!
Right - I believe I read somewhere it's the wood rather than the sherry - but I also think that's weird. There's no question about the bourbon though as bourbon serves to pull out aromas that would make a too strong a mark on single whisky as we know it. And we should also consider another factor; the wood cannot be "soaked" as the barrel would simply break due to the weight strain of the solera system. You actually stack the barrels - 3 on top of eachother and that's heavy. A soaked barrel wouldn't stand the preasure and brake.

I'll try to look for further information and post it as soon as possible.

Skål!
Christian
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Postby hpulley » Tue Feb 15, 2005 4:19 pm

I'm not sure of the legality of using fresh oak to mature scotch whisky. Glengoyne was sufficiently worried for its Scottish Oak bottling (which is just a finish in fresh oak, not a full maturation) that they put some grain spirit in it first.

That said, Glenmorangie has a limited run of Burr Oak Reserve in virgin burr oak barrels. Not a finish but a full maturation in virgin oak! I'm not sure if they are calling it scotch whisky or not. Only 1152 bottles at cask strength are offered, probably all gone or spoken for already.

Harry
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Tue Feb 15, 2005 4:27 pm

Very interesting Harry! This wood maturation thing is difficult to grasp! You don't happen to know what kind of oak the Laphroaig is matured in? I only know they had to have the barrels made specially for them since they cannot be bought "second hand" ?
I only remember reading they had to use younger whisky than intended and that maturation was done a lot quicker because of the "extended" contact with the wood etc.

Skål!
Christian
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Postby hpulley » Tue Feb 15, 2005 4:35 pm

I'm afraid I don't know what variety of European oak was used to mature the 40yo Laphroaig.

Harry
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Postby Ed » Tue Feb 15, 2005 4:38 pm

Hello All,
That said, Glenmorangie has a limited run of Burr Oak Reserve in virgin burr oak barrels. Not a finish but a full maturation in virgin oak! I'm not sure if they are calling it scotch whisky or not. Only 1152 bottles at cask strength are offered, probably all gone or spoken for already.

I would really like to try that. I am not sure I understand why Scotch Single Malts can't use a brand new barrel. To be honest, I don't care if it is Scotch or not, I just care if it is good or not.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Tue Feb 15, 2005 6:38 pm

Ed wrote:Hello All,
I am not sure I understand why Scotch Single Malts can't use a brand new barrel. To be honest, I don't care if it is Scotch or not, I just care if it is good or not.
Ed

Nor do I Ed - but here's my highly unqualified guessing!
With wine most of the maturation (generally speaking) takes place in the bottle! So, the wine doesn't spend very much time in casks whereas whisky does! Now, correct me anyone if I'm wrong but the whisky we know (so well :wink: ) is a result of several factors , but two important ones are flavours drawn out from the wood and oxydation. That whisky is legaly required to be stored at least 3 years is a hint at a prolonged maturation in order to ensure a minimum of quality. We know that a single malt needs about 10 years for the malt to develop as we appreciate! Now, let us asume that one could use fresh oak. The oxydation would take place as usual but the flavours from the wood would be very strong and I'm certain it would easily overpower the malt character. Hence, my unqualified guess is that in order to balance that you would have to shorten the maturation process and thus say goodbye to whatever the effect of prolonged oxydation would imply. I don't know, but it's worth a try?
Anyway, if this is the case with the Laiphroaig Quarter Cask I'm not sure of, but I'll be able to try it in May when it becomes available at the wine monopoly!

Hm, I'm going to send an email to Ardbeg and enquire if they have used "steamed" or "charred" bourbon barrels! I'll post the info as soon as possible!


Skål!

Christian
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Feb 15, 2005 7:37 pm

I don't know if the use of second-hand barrels for Scotch whisky is a matter of law or simply a matter of practice, but in either case it is indeed because raw casks are considered too overpowering for the maturation of whisky. By contrast, of course, Bourbon must be matured in virgin casks, and consequently is usually aged only three years (correct me if I'm wrong, Ed), and very rarely more than eight. Maybe someone well versed in Bourbon practice could address us regarding barrel preparation prior to use.

Not that it's entirely relevant, but I recall reading somewhere that coopers in Scotland routinely make larger barrels from the ones they get by inserting extra staves--making four barrels out of five, say. Exactly why I do not know.
Last edited by Guest on Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Admiral » Wed Feb 16, 2005 3:39 am

Here's an all inclusive response to several issues raised above.

1) There is no law in Scotland that says new-make spirit must be filled into virgin oak casks. However, Mr T is correct - the distillers prefer to use used or "seasoned" casks, so that the wood is not too overpowering. (Don't forget, these things can lie down for 8 to 20 years - very different to bourbon, which, with exceptions, is typically bottled after two to six years).

2) I'm going off VERY vague memory here, but I believe there is a distinction between bourbon and straight bourbon. The difference has to do with whether the spirit is matured for the minimum two years, or whether it matures for three years or greater.

3) Barrels from the U.S are a different size to the European hogsheads. (From memory, I think they're roughly 200 litre capacity versus 250 litres). This is the reason the coopers re-work them upon arrival in Scotland.

4) I'm not so sure there's a difference between spanish oak and french oak. When we speak of Limousine casks, isn't this to do with the fact that the cask has simply previously held wine or cognac from the Limousine region of France?

Rather, the distinction is between European oak (quercus robur) and American oak (quercus alba).

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Wed Feb 16, 2005 6:12 am

Admiral wrote:I'm not so sure there's a difference between spanish oak and french oak. When we speak of Limousine casks, isn't this to do with the fact that the cask has simply previously held wine or cognac from the Limousine region of France?

Rather, the distinction is between European oak (quercus robur) and American oak (quercus alba).

Cheers,
Admiral


Hi Admiral!
Limousine oak simply means (virgin) oak from the forest called Limousine.

Skål!
Christian
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:01 am

Mr Fjeld wrote:
Admiral wrote:I'm not so sure there's a difference between spanish oak and french oak. When we speak of Limousine casks, isn't this to do with the fact that the cask has simply previously held wine or cognac from the Limousine region of France?

Rather, the distinction is between European oak (quercus robur) and American oak (quercus alba).

Cheers,
Admiral


Hi Admiral!
Limousine oak simply means (virgin) oak from the forest called Limousine.

Edit: I agree with you that it sounds weird if there is a difference between french and spanish oak because of the geographical proximity - however there is a difference between eastern european oak and french oak!

Skål!
Christian
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Postby Admiral » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:16 am

Do they actually have different botanical names?
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:21 am

Admiral wrote:Do they actually have different botanical names?

Hi again Admiral!
I believe they do (french/eastern european)- or I seem to remember something being said about that at a wine seminar years ago. I'll see if I can find any info.

Edit: About the light colour of Ardbeg 10 - how silly of me, it could very well be a result of second fill/third fill etc bourbon casks. No need to buy steamed casks to avoid picking up excessive colour.

Christian
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Postby Lawrence » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:39 am

Are you sure it's not laminating from the Presidents' motor transport?

Shades of Mr. Picky here. :D
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:46 am

Found something - there are even two types of french oak - Quercus Robur and Quercus Sessiliflora - where the tightness of the grain defines the quality. It seems that the Limousine is of lesser quality - contrary to what I thought. I also found a third european type of oak called Quercus Penduculata :roll:

Finally I found the name of the eastern (Hungarian) oak: Quercus petraea Liebl

I now officialy give up this oak thing and I'm looking forward to tasting whisky as soon as my bloody penicillin cure is over!
My stamina in this oak thing is now well and truly charred and I'm out of steam 8)

Regards!
Christian
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:53 am

Lawrence wrote:Are you sure it's not laminating from the Presidents' motor transport?

Shades of Mr. Picky here. :D


Hehe :D
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