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Oak chips ......

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Oak chips ......

Postby Mr Fjeld » Mon Mar 19, 2007 12:55 am

Not so long ago the use oak chips, shavings or staves in whisky production in Scotland was ruled out. If I'm not mistaken this concerned a whisky produced by "Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whisky Company" . However, recently (January/February 2007) new EU reforms set out to change the agricultural policy of Europe - especially targeting the wine (over)production. Some of the traditional practices have also been affected as the use of oak chips and staves have now been allowed by european law and at least for the lower end of the market this will undoubtedly have an effect as costs are reduced with as much as aprx. a pound a bottle. In the long run it will possibly also affect the higher end among the producers. Not surprisingly the french have protested: "INAO in France has said it remains banned for AOC wines.... "
Link: http://www.decanter.com/news/102498.html

What's interesting is that it's happening at all in Europe with its traditional and heavily regulated wine making. I cannot help but think that if this is taking place in the wine making of today's Europe - how can it not eventually happen to the whisky production - especially since it has already been done succesfully? What are your thoughts on this highly controversial matter?
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Mar 19, 2007 4:39 am

I came across a German wine producer late last year who is using oak chips and I have to say that it tasted horrible.
This particular vineyard fits into your stated profile of "the cheaper end" and when I heard what they were doing with the chips, I felt really sad for the industry.
I sincerely hope that this does not become standard practice throughout the indusrty and no, I do not want to see this moving into whisky production. But I fear someone will be trying it.
MT
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Mon Mar 19, 2007 5:09 pm

Malt-Teaser wrote:I came across a German wine producer late last year who is using oak chips and I have to say that it tasted horrible.
This particular vineyard fits into your stated profile of "the cheaper end" and when I heard what they were doing with the chips, I felt really sad for the industry.
I sincerely hope that this does not become standard practice throughout the indusrty and no, I do not want to see this moving into whisky production. But I fear someone will be trying it.
MT

Yes it's really catching on nowadays and I bet the oak chips/staves will be widespread also among many of the top producers in a while. The argument is of course better control over the aging process and a unique ability to tailor the wines' characteristics. It's bound to happen with whisky too and I bet most of the major companies are busy discovering how it can be done with their whiskies.....
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Postby xcel » Mon Mar 19, 2007 5:20 pm

I make my own wine, and have used both oak barrels and wood chips. I can tell you that the wood chips do not work well and do not give off the same characteristics as wine aged in barrels. In my experience the wood chips create an overly woody taste, and not the same refined spice and vanilla notes that you find in wine aged in oak barrels

I highly doubt if this practice will move on to whisky's. First off given the aging requirments for whisky, it would take a very long time for the companies to discover wether they can get the same results with chips as they can with barrels. I don't think they will be taking that risk, it would just be bad business.
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Postby lbacha » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:09 pm

Other than giving the wine/whisky an oaky taste I don't think chips can replace a barrel, remember part of the aging process is the movement of the liquid through the oak and the evaporation lost, I'm no expert but I'm sure this has an effect on the character of the final product, I bet if you painted the outside of the barrel with a waterproof paint you would get a much different final product than one that was exposed to the elements. I think if all you are trying to get from the chips is some added flavor say from sherry soaked chips then maybe they will work, but there is no way they can replace a barrel for aging.

Len
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Re: Oak chips ......

Postby Lawrence » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:16 pm

[quote="Mr Fjeld"]Not so long ago the use oak chips, shavings or staves in whisky production in Scotland was ruled out. If I'm not mistaken this concerned a whisky produced by "Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whisky Company" . "[/b]

Could it be that you're referring to Compass Box and the Spice Tree that used extra staves secured inside the casks with food grade attachments? The extra staves we specially selected from French oak and toasted to John's specifications. I'm just curious.

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Re: Oak chips ......

Postby Mr Fjeld » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:38 pm

Lawrence wrote:
Mr Fjeld wrote:Not so long ago the use oak chips, shavings or staves in whisky production in Scotland was ruled out. If I'm not mistaken this concerned a whisky produced by "Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whisky Company" . "[/b]

Could it be that you're referring to Compass Box and the Spice Tree that used extra staves secured inside the casks with food grade attachments? The extra staves we specially selected from French oak and toasted to John's specifications. I'm just curious.

Lawrence

I think you're right Lawrence! I remember hearing something on Mark's Whiskycast about it. Think I heard they were pretty nice actually - have you tasted any of them by the way?
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:50 pm

I know one member here who thought the Spice Tree was very good.

xcel wrote:I highly doubt if this practice will move on to whisky's. First off given the aging requirments for whisky, it would take a very long time for the companies to discover wether they can get the same results with chips as they can with barrels. I don't think they will be taking that risk, it would just be bad business.


Not to mention that it's been banned....
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Postby lbacha » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:52 pm

I just went to their web site http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/ and it just sais french oak staves, I believe they decided to make the ends of the barrels out of the wood after they were asked to stop using the staves, I remember hearing that somewhere but I'm not sure where or when.

Len
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Postby lbacha » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:57 pm

Here is the whole article:

The Spice Tree (Vatted Malt)

Despite the success of our first two bottlings of “The Spice Tree” among devoted whisky drinkers around the world, the Scotch Whisky Association (known as the SWA in the Scotch whisky trade) has asked us to discontinue production of this product.

The issue revolves around the SWA’s interpretation of the law regarding traditional practice in the production of spirits in European Union countries. While we disagree with their interpretation of the law, we have, nonetheless, decided to stop production of “The Spice Tree” while we continue to negotiate.

What the SWA does not like is our technique of using barrel inserts (made of the highest quality cooperage oak you can buy) in the casks we use to do a secondary maturation on the whiskies for “The Spice Tree”.

A few years ago, I travelled to the Vosges forest to visit a mill that makes oak for cooperage. I was in search of the highest quality cooperage oak in the world, as we plan to begin buying our own casks to fill new spirit. And this is what I found:

* A mill that makes oak for cooperage from slow growth, 195 year-old (average age) French Sessile oak.
* They air-dry the oak outdoors for at least two years to season and evolve the flavours in the wood (instead of kiln drying like most whisky wood goes through).
* They use this oak for making some of the most expensive wine barrels in the world.
* But they ALSO use the same oak to make flat oak barrel inserts (also known as staves) for some of the best wineries in the world.

Working with friends like the famous Dr. Jim Swan, I borrowed a technique commonly used by winemakers and I began experimenting with secondary maturation of whisky in casks with new oak barrel inserts inside them. I was effectively using a quality of oak that is never used in Scotch whisky.

The results were extraordinary! Why, I began wondering, are the winemakers getting all the good wood? Why don’t we use this kind of oak to mature Scotch whisky?

Well, we did. And this is where “The Spice Tree” came from. Our inaugural batch of just over 4,000 bottles was sold out in five weeks (we thought it would last five months!) And our second batch, released in April 2006 was entirely pre-sold to our importers before we bottled it!

However, the SWA did not like it. I tried to explain to them that we had studied the law and believed that what we were doing was well within it, not to mention a positive quality step forward for the industry. “Quality,” I was told by the SWA, “is completely irrelevant.” They had their interpretation of the law, which held that what we were doing was not “traditional”, so that was the end of the story, as far as they were concerned.

Not much we could do at that point, with a gun, (figuratively speaking) pointed at our head.

So we will continue to negotiate and hopefully one day we will bring back “The Spice Tree.” (Join our email newsletter list to keep updated.)

But don’t worry! The good news is we’ve got lots of other whiskies in development. We have no shortage of ideas. And no diminished passion for creating extraordinary and delicious whiskies. Stay tuned.

For information, here are the specs of the first two batches of “The Spice Tree”:

Type: Vatted Malt. A blend of single malts from different distilleries.

Tasting Notes: A natural, deep, gold-brown colour and a rich nose with spices such as clove and nutmeg, and sweet stewed fruits. Palate is soft, sweet, deep and rich with a malt whisky fruitiness embellished by rich spice. Very long.

Lead Distilleries: Dailuaine, Teaninich and two other malt whiskies distilled in the villages of Brora and Longmorn.

Wood: 100% first-fill Bourbon barrels and first-fill, recharred American oak hogsheads for the primary maturation. A portion of the whisky went through a secondary maturation on new (virgin) French Sessile oak, heavily toasted. Our inaugural batch (labelled as such on the front and back labels) had one toast level. Our second batch, released April 2006, had several different toast levels for a slightly more subtle yet complex flavour profile, but definitely similar to the inaugural batch.

Bottling Details: 46%, not chill filtered, natural colour
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Mar 19, 2007 7:26 pm

Compass Box wrote:Not much we could do at that point, with a gun, (figuratively speaking) pointed at our head.


--Except join the ever-growing band of industry people who are only too glad to tell the SWA what they can do with your disused staves?
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Mon Mar 19, 2007 7:26 pm

Thanks for digging up the article lbacha. It makes interesting reading, and I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to allow this practice with "vatted" or "blended" whiskies? Why not if it benefits the quality?
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Mar 19, 2007 7:32 pm

xcel wrote:I make my own wine, and have used both oak barrels and wood chips. I can tell you that the wood chips do not work well and do not give off the same characteristics as wine aged in barrels. In my experience the wood chips create an overly woody taste, and not the same refined spice and vanilla notes that you find in wine aged in oak barrels


I totally agree, the wine I tasted which had been subjected to 'chips' was indeed overly woody in a very rough and unpleasant way.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Mar 19, 2007 7:41 pm

I would imagine that results from the use of chips would depend on the quality of the chips, how much you use, and how long you use them for. I can see getting a bad result in one circumstance, and a good one in another. If, as Compass box did, you used high-quality oak treated in the same way as the inner part of a real barrel, you'd likely get better results than from using untreated chips of dubious provenance.
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Postby l'chaim » Tue Mar 20, 2007 4:23 am

I have an article from the Wall Street Journal (1/17/07) about US single malt distillers. One of these ‘micro-distillers’, Rick Wasmund (Copper Fox Distillery) in Virginia, “toasts hunks of oak and fruitwood, bags them in burlap and leaves them in the raw, young spirit to steep like a tea bag”. The author of the article, Eric Felton, said the whisky “tasted of wood rather than the deeper flavors associated with barrel aging” and that “There was a lack of structure in the spirit that left Wasmund’s shallow and tinny.”
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