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Issue 11 - Growing old gracefully

Whisky Magazine Issue 11
September 2000


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Growing old gracefully

Coopering is an essential part of the maturation process. Gavin D Smith hails an irreplaceable art.

It was the diminutive Scottish comedian Ronnie Corbett who once said, “The common belief that whisky improves with age is true. The older I get, the more I like it”.

The process of personal maturation must, however, be matched by maturation of the whisky itself if the drink is to be worth getting old for.
In Scots on Scotch, Russell Sharp notes that “... the most economic and convenient way of ensuring that whisky matures to perfection will be the simple one which our forebears discovered. You make a good malt spirit, you fill it into a good oak cask, and you wait for 10 or 20 years”. Of the many variables that influence the character and quality of Scotch whisky, it can be strongly argued that none is more important than Russell Sharp's ‘good oak cask'. The makers of Glenmorangie reckon that up to 70 per cent of whisky's characteristics derive from the wood.

Detailed analysis of the complex interaction between spirit and wood have been well documented elsewhere, but, essentially, during maturation the spirit gains both colour and flavour from the wood, while higher alcohols are transformed into esters and other compounds with desirable aromas.

The rate at which maturation occurs depends on a number of factors, including the style of malt whisky concerned, its strength, the size of cask, and the temperature and humidity at which storage takes place. Most casks used for Scotch whisky have previously contained either
bourbon or sherry, and the former contents...

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