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Issue 18 - Whisky: even in spirit

Whisky Magazine Issue 18
September 2001

 

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Whisky: even in spirit

There is a plethora of special finish styles and now there's a trend for maturation in spirit barrels: is this a progressive move or a gimmick that will outrage traditionalists? Ian Wisniewski investigates

As special finishes evolve into an ever more specialised genre, the options span various styles of wine: chenin blanc and chardonnay, red bordeaux and burgundy, malaga and madeira among fortified styles, not to mention casks that haven't aged a drop (in the case of a new oak finish).

So, what's next? Spirits, actually, with the likes of cognac and calvados casks adding distinctive finishing touches to a range of malts.

Maturation is not an inexact science: you can't assess the degree of influence that each element of a finish exerts. There are endless possible permutationsbetween the length of the finishing period, the type of spirit previously matured in the cask and the nature (and fill) of the cask itself.

Regulations governing the use of finishing casks aren't exactly definitive either. Apart from the compulsory use of oak, the choice must comply with the ‘traditional casks' principle that applies to all Scotch whisky. Is there such a definitive list? Well, not really. Nor would it be easy to compile one. And as distillers would in the past have used casks from various European wines and spirits shipped to the UK, this hardly seems a restrictive clause.

Far clearer is that the finishing influence must stem entirely from the cask and not from any liquid presence of the previous incumbent. Residual spirit within the staves is, naturally, exempt. However, as this can amount to several litres – depending on the size of the cask – it is a significant factor. Just...

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