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Issue 88 - Who's afraid of the sherried beaties

Whisky Magazine Issue 88
June 2010

 

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Who's afraid of the sherried beaties

Gavin D. Smith looks at whether sherried whiskies are still relevant to whisky drinkers.

The contemporary spirits world seems to be full of pale, interesting whiskies, often young and vibrant. They are presented with a minimal influence of ex-Sherry wood in their vattings, majoring on former Bourbon barrel maturation, which theoretically allows the subtleties of the spirit to shine through.

So are the big, heavily-Sherried beasts of the whisky jungle in danger of being seen as irrelevant and old-fashioned, and why are there comparatively few of them today? In order to understand the present situation, where little more than a handful of well-known single malts are clearly identified with the committed and widespread use of European oak ex- Sherry casks, it is necessary to delve briefly into the past.

It has been known since medieval times that whisky, when stored in casks which had previously contained sweet wine, port or Sherry, became smoother and mellower and gained positively in flavour. Britain was a major importer of Spanish Sherry during the 19th century, and as that Sherry was shipped into the country in casks, the Scotch whisky industry had a ready supply of relatively inexpensive containers available for maturation.

Ex-Bourbon barrels were first used in the Scotch whisky industry during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, but their widespread adoption came about from the 1950s onwards, as the Scotch whisky industry rapidly expanded. By this time, the British love affair with Spanish Sherry had diminished significantly, and ultimately virtually all the ...

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