Cask options – surely it’s just a cask?
Many moons ago, provided it didn’t leak, a cask was probably considered to be just a cask. A watertight vessel for the transportation and storage of liquid (and many other products).
Thankfully a lot of money and considerable attention has been paid to the science and impact of our dear friend the cask. As a self-confessed maturation geek, I wonder if I take it for granted that everyone is aware of this complex and artistic part of the whisky process?
I don’t know about you, but I get a little bit giddy when a distillery tour enters the warehouse. There’s something entirely magical about those buildings, eerily quiet and still. The air abundant with the aroma of ethanol vapour. And most of the time, they’re filled with an assortment of different casks.
Let’s start with bourbon and sherry casks. Bourbon is the Scotch whisky industry juggernaut, it does the heavy lifting and more than its fair share of maturation duties in Scotland. Why do we use Bourbon? Bourbon producers can only use a virgin oak cask once, as such once the cask has been used… it’s of no use to the bourbon producer. Thankfully Scotch doesn’t have that restriction so we use millions of them. Yes, millions.
Sherry casks, once did the leg work that bourbon does now. But for a variety of reasons we’re no longer as dependent on them, and sadly sherry no longer enjoys its previous popularity.
At a broad level bourbon casks tend to provide ‘vanilla/coconut’ aromas and flavours, whereas sherry casks give us ‘fruitcake/caramel’. Which is kinda useful in helping us to understand their differences. But as with most things Single Malt, it’s much more nuanced.
The type of bourbon that inhabited the cask, will affect the maturing whisky. The mash bill (the type and ratio of grains used and indeed how they were mashed), distillation and length of maturation will result in a bourbon of a particular character. At Lindores we use Old Forester (rich, cinnamon, over ripe banana, peppery rye) and Woodford Reserve (more subtle than old forester but a similar profile). Choosing a bourbon to suit your new make is one exciting part of the puzzle. There are a LOT of bourbons to choose from.
The same goes for sherry which varies even more greatly than bourbon. From the dry fino style, to more sweet oloroso, onto the sickly sweet pedro ximenez styles. At Lindores we use oloroso sherry casks, sourced directly from Bodegas Valdivia, Jerez. Their sherry gives rich and complex aromas with hints of nuts, gold tobacco and hardwood. The use of these casks lends a lovely sweetness and a hint of ginger spice to our spirit.
Another vital dynamic is the ‘activeness’ of the cask, which can be described as how much the cask has to give. Just as you can brew more than one cup of tea with a teabag, you can use a cask more than once. The impact of the cask lessens with each use, until such time as the cask is determined to be ‘spent’ and it becomes artwork or a plant pot. For the real geeks out there is also the ecological aspects of the forest and individual trees that the donor wood has come from. Also the way the staves are seasoned and coopered… but that’s for another discussion.
So as you see, it’s not simply a case that a cask is just a cask. Nor even that bourbon gives you X and sherry Y. The job of the whisky maker is to build relationships with suppliers and to hand select the casks that work perfectly with each distilleries new make spirit. Our owners had the great foresight to choose to work with leading industry expert, the late Dr Jim Swan to hand select our casks. Our distillery manager Gary now manages the relationship with each supplier to ensure that our spirit is aged in very finest oak casks imaginable.
EXCLUSIVE Sherry Cask Ownership offer at Lindores Abbey Distillery
We managed to source some traditional Palo Cortado Sherry Butts which have been maturing Palo Cortado Sherry in the traditional solera system for 20+ years. Palo Cortado is the rarest type and style of sherry to come out of Jerez. It is delicate and holds a well-balanced complexity of savoury and sweet flavours. We are also able to resize the butts (500 Litres) to Hogsheads (250 Litres). We have a very limited supply and only a few lucky buyers will be able to get a cask, so if you are interested – get in touch today! You can contact Elliot on firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more at https://lindoresabbeydistillery.com/welcome-lindores-abbey-distillery/cask-ownership/