Whisky Magazine Issue 116
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We investigate cork stoppers and their route to the bottle
Removing a cork from a bottle of malt whisky only takes a moment, though its journey to the bottle is a long one, and the age of the tree that supplied the cork generally exceeds that of the malt whisky it seals.
The cork tree is indigenous to the Mediterranean, with the greatest concentration of cork tree forests in southern Portugal.
“The roots of the tree go deep into the ground to gain water, and the leaves are a very good sunshade. This is exceptionally important, enabling the trees to cope with very hot summers,” says Hugo Mesquita, sales and marketing director, TopSeries Division, Amorim, a Portuguese company that produces 3.6 billion corks per year.
Apart from some pruning, cork trees don't require much maintenance.
But they do require patience, as a Portuguese saying reveals: “if you want to make a business for your grandchildren plant cork trees.” This is because it usually takes around 25 years before the bark from a cork tree can be harvested for the first time. However, this first harvest, known as virgin cork, is too rigid to use for cork stoppers and instead provides flooring or sound insulation.
It takes the tree nine years to ‘regenerate' another layer of bark which can be harvested, with this second harvest also used as cork flooring or sound insulation.
Only cork from the third harvest (another nine years later) has the degree of flexibility required to produce stoppers. This means waiting an average of 43 years after planting the trees. At ...