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Issue 135 - The Importance of the Cask

Whisky Magazine Issue 135
April 2016


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The Importance of the Cask

A growing range of casks are used for ageing – we ask what can they contribute to malt whisky?

Between 40-70 per cent of the character of a malt whisky develops during the ageing process, with the type of cask used, contributing a specific range of flavours. Casks previously used to age Bourbon and sherry are the standard choice, but a growing range of other cask types are also being used, which contribute their own individual range of flavours to the resulting malt whisky.

Casks must be oak and comply with the ‘traditional casks' principle, ie. which would have traditionally been used. In the past various wines and spirits were shipped in casks to Scotland and bottled locally, providing a ready supply of empty casks that malt whisky distillers could make use of.

Regulations state: “There is sufficient evidence of traditional use to justify use of the following oak casks for maturation or ‘finishing' of Scotch Whisky: Bourbon and other whisky, grape brandy (including Armagnac and Cognac although they are technically wine spirits), rum, fortified wine (including sherry, Madeira, port and Malaga), still wine (of whatever type of origin) and beer/ale.”

These cask types can be used for the entire ageing process, or, more typically for secondary maturation. This means transferring malt whisky already matured in Bourbon and sherry casks into a different type of cask for an additional ageing period (ie. secondary maturation). The aim is to further develop the flavour profile produced by the ‘primary' maturation in Bourbon and sherry casks.

Bourbon barrel...

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