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Issue 112 - The scent of satan

Whisky Magazine Issue 112
June 2013


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The scent of satan

Gavin is a regular contributor to Whisky Magazine

If ex-Bourbon casks are the Fiats and Fords of the Scotch whisky world, then former sherry casks are surely the BMWs and Mercedes of the industry. A Bourbon cask currently costs around £80 while one that has formerly held sherry will set a distiller back in the region of £700.

The use of Sherry casks to mature single malt Scotch whisky – once the norm, but now the exception – implies a degree of luxury, of indulgence, of ‘because you're worth it.' But even BMWs and Mercedes may have their faults, and at least one influential author and commentator considers that the issue of egg-y, drain-like, sulphur notes being imparted from ex-sherry casks is so widespread that it has reached something close to crisis point.

The problem, it seems, is caused by the use of sulphur candles or ‘sticks,' or sulphur dioxide to sterilise empty sherry casks in Spain prior to their transportation. This practice began during the early 1990s and is no longer widespread, but some ‘contaminated' casks are still in circulation.

So is that section of the Scotch whisky industry which utilises sherry casks in danger of alienating consumers or even in deep denial, or has the whole issue been blown out of proportion?

Richard Paterson, master blender for Whyte & Mackay and custodian of The Dalmore brand has clear views on the matter. “The shipper I deal with – Gonzales Byass – has not used sherry candles for 21 years,” he says. “No reputable distiller would release whiskies that smel...

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