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Issue 92 - A new relationship

Whisky Magazine Issue 92
December 2010


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A new relationship

Beer guru Roger Protz looks at some oak aged beers on the market

Beer and whisky have a long, intertwined history. Centuries ago, lost in the Highland mists of time, someone boiled a liquid, distilled it and produced a lifeenhancing drink called uisge beatha or the water of life. The liquid that formed the basis for that first whisky was beer – or more precisely ale: beer without hops.

The language of beer-making and whisky-making have striking similarities. The first stage of the process, in which the starch in barley malt is turned into fermentable sugar, takes place in a mash tun. The result is a sugary extract known as wort. Then the processes go their separate ways: wort destined to become beer is boiled with hops in a brew-kettle, while the extract in a distillery goes to washbacks for fermentation.

Now beer and whisky are building a new and closer relationship due to the interest created by craft brewers in Britain who are maturing beer in oak whisky casks. Both brewers and consumers are fascinated by the new aromas and flavours developed by ageing in casks that have held whisky and which have started life containing either American bourbon or Spanish sherry.

Suddenly beer has a new depth of character, with oak, peat, vanilla and fruit blending with biscuity malt and spicy and peppery hops.

There's nothing new about beer being stored in wood. Before the arrival of metal casks, beer – including European lager – was matured in wood. But these were casks especially built for brewing and Czech and German brew masters lined the...

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