Whisky Magazine Issue 65
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Ian Wisniewski investigates distillery character versus maturation character
The benefits of oak aging have been appreciated far longer than they've been understood, as it's only since the 1970s-80s that detailed research has enabled science to supplant, or confirm, what experience had indicated. However, while maturation can account for up to 60-70 per cent of a malt's final character, this is such a complex process that it's still not fully understood. Maturation can be divided into three elements: subtractive, additive and interactive, which occur simultaneously although at differing rates. Subtractive maturation deals with the loss of immaturity, while additive maturation sees the oak endowing the spirit with colour and character.
Interactive maturation refers to the complex reactions occurring between the spirit and the oak (including evaporation and oxidation), which yield an additional range of characteristics that neither possess individually.
“Maturation is all about integration, taking components in new make spirit and marrying those flavours with the types of cask you're using, some will be enhanced, some diminished,” says Gordon & MacPhail's Ewen Mackintosh.
This means the balance between the ‘distillery character' embodied in new make spirit, and the ‘maturation character' that develops during aging is continually evolving. Certain aspects of the distillery character remain, others are lost, some are masked by the growing influence of the cask, while others evolve.
“Some fruits found in the new make spirit evolve during matu...