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Issue 114 - Aging gracefully

Whisky Magazine Issue 114
September 2013


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Aging gracefully

The extent to which single malt Scotch whisky is a creature of its environment is the subject of lengthy, on-going debate. Many people even doubt the existence of ‘whisky terroir,' noting that malting barley is usually not grown close to the distillery where it is processed and the influence of the prevailing micro-climate is of minimal consequence. It is often argued that differences between single malts have most to do with variations in production practices and equipment.

While the jury may be out in terms of actual spirit production, when it comes to maturation of that spirit, however, the environment certainly plays a part, and Scotch whisky matures in a notably different way to its Kentucky counterpart, for example.

During maturation, the porous oak casks ‘breathe,' and many changes occur to the spirit due to the dialogue between liquid, wood and external atmosphere.

Pungent sulphur compounds diffuse out from the cask, while air diffuses in, promoting a series of chemical reactions, with a proportion of the higher alcohols being transformed into esters and other complex compounds which have a beneficial effect on the character of the maturing spirit.

The amount of bulk loss varies according to temperature and humidity levels, as does the rate of maturation. In the prevailing cool and relatively damp Scottish climate a reduction in both strength and volume occurs as time passes, with an average evaporation loss of around two per cent per annum – often referred ...

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