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Issue 52 - America - the stave

Whisky Magazine Issue 52
November 2005


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America - the stave

Ian Wisniewski looks at how the bourbon barrel influences the taste of whisky

Although bourbon barrels dominate most cask inventories, it's ironic that most malts also include the influence of sherry casks, with only a certain number of malts, or individual expressions, aged exclusively in bourbon barrels. This includes Laphroaig, Glemorangie 10 year old, Ardbeg 10 year old, The Glenlivet 12 year old First Fill, The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year old, Talisker 20 year old and Port Ellen 1979.

Bourbon barrels became more widely used during the Spanish civil war, 1936-9, and World War II, when sourcing sherry casks (a traditional favourite) became harder.

Around 300,000 bourbon barrels are acquired annually by the Scotch whisky industry, though this total fluctuates and can exceed 400,000 barrels in peak years. Amere 18,000 sherry casks arrive in Scotland annually, with a hogshead (250-305 litre capacity) around £250, while a butt (500 litre capacity) is around £420.

Three grades of bourbon barrels (180-200 litre capacity) are available. ‘Select' barrels, around £35-40 each, are selected after the bourbon has been dumped, but inspected prior to filling in Scotland, of which around 95 per cent are typically fillable, with only a minority requiring repairs.

‘Distillery run' barrels, around £25-30 each, are shipped from the dump trough without any selection procedure. Around 60 per cent are typically ready for filling, with 40 per cent requiring repairs. However, it's hardly a fixed percentage and could be 40 per cent fillable and 60 per cent re...

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