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Issue 31 - Arranged marriage

Whisky Magazine Issue 31
June 2003


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Arranged marriage

So how do whiskies cope once they have come of age and are ready for single-malt marriage? Ian Wisniewski investigates

Reaching maturity is a major event in the life of a whisky, leaving a cask that has been home for years and preparing for marriage. Various approaches are used to promote marital bliss, depending on the master distiller or blender presiding over the ceremony. Some are more pragmatic than others, but, as with each stage of the production process, the real issue is not whether one approach is more complex than another, but how this helps to achieve a particular expression.

Although marrying tends to be associated with blended whisky, the same principle applies to single malts, which comprise a ‘recipe' of different casks and maturation influences. The focus of marrying tends to be the period once whiskies have been transferred from marrying vats into marrying casks (more like a honeymoon), to integrate and harmonise at leisure. However, ‘marrying' can also refer to the overall process of combining mature whiskies.

Malts are introduced to each other within marrying vats (large vessels, also known as marrying tuns or holding vats), on a scale that varies from a couple of casks to over 100. This experience can last a matter of hours, or extend to several days.

Whether the vat is stainless steel or oak doesn't generate much of a debate. Apart from the minimal time scale involved, the oak is inactive, while the advantage of stainless steel is essentially ease of cleaning.

Malts are typically (though not always) combined at cask strength, with rigourous cask selection identi...

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