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Issue 38 - Give me strength

Whisky Magazine Issue 38
April 2004


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Give me strength

Ian Wisniewski looks at the effects of different filling and bottling strengths

Choice is a wonderful thing, and that includes malts bottled at a comprehensive range of alcoholic strengths. This can be an important part of a
malt's credentials, as well as influencing the flavour profile.

The strength at which malts are consumed is a subsequent consideration. But long before that, the strength at which new make spirit is barrelled is another important factor.

Filling barrels with new make spirit at 63.5% abv is a long-standing industry standard (adding water to the new make spirit, which comes off the stills at around 70% abv, adjusts the strength).

Established by experience, this strength is widely considered to be an optimum balance between the rate of maturation, and the amount of casks, as well as storage space, required.

Needless to say, there have always been exceptions, and in the 1980s, for example, there were instances of filling strengths above and below this level, with some casks filled at distillation strength during the 1970s. A practical reason for this was the continued growth in post-war production levels, until sales peaked in 1978, combined with a general shortage of barrels and limited warehouse space.

Although lower filling strengths entail more casks (due to the increased amount of water added) and more storage space, some distillers believe this approach accelerates the maturation process.

Meanwhile, fewer casks are required with higher filling strengths, though one theory states that this also means a longer route to maturity...

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