Cask Curriculum: Journey Into Wood
This month at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society we are celebrating the unique flavours that are created when whisky is matured in different types of wood. Many of the single cask whiskies we have decided to share with our members this month have been “double matured”, meaning they have spent the majority of their years in an American oak cask before being transferred to a second cask that previously held a unique style of wine.
Of all the whisky casks maturing in Scotland today, just a small percentage previously held wine (the majority are ex-Bourbon) yet the resulting yet when we think of Scotch, we often point to these wine-cask matured whiskies as a shining example of what Scotch can taste like. But just as there are many styles of wine produced around the world, whisky matured in various wine casks can take on numerous flavour profiles suiting different palates. Understanding the different styles of wine and how they bring flavour is one of the shortest paths to identifying flavour profiles. Let’s have a look.
Style: Oloroso Sherry
Cask 9.158 is a 22-year-old Speyside whisky that spent its first 20 years in an American oak hogshead before being transferred to a first-fill Oloroso sherry hogshead for its final two years of maturation. Sherry is a style of fortified wine from Spain that comes in a variety of styles and flavours. Oloroso is the most common style of Sherry used for whisky maturation and there’s a reason for this. It’s dry, nutty, red fruit flavors along with classic with heavy baking spices such cinnamon and nutmeg serve as the perfect complement to an old Speyside whisky. It is the little black dress of the whisky world; timeless and flattering to almost anything that fits into it.
Style: Pedro Ximenez Sherry
Next up: Pedro Ximenez, or “PX” for short. PX is a style of Spanish sherry very different from the commonly used Oloroso. It is a viscous, sticky-sweet type of wine that offers notes of raisins, dates and candied fruits. Truth be told, the flavour profile of PX sherry is so intensely sweet that it is rarely used for full-term maturation, commonly reserved for short-term finishing instead. Cask 44.103 ‘Blown away’ spent its final 2 years out of 15 in a first-fill PX hogshead, which, in my opinion is the perfect amount of time to inject a deep layer of fruitiness while still maintaining the spirit’s natural character beneath it. If you tend to enjoy sherry, you will likely find this whisky as I do: epic!
Next up – something you don’t see very often. Cask 37.115 ‘A robotic woodsmith’ is a 16-year-old Speyside whisky that spent its first 14 years in a bourbon hogshead before being transferred to a first-fill Moscatel cask. Moscatel, or “Muscat”, is a particularly aromatic Mediterranean grape that ripens to high sugar levels, ideal for creating sweet, fortified wine. When used for whisky maturation, Moscatel casks impark a bold and rich flavour profile with a gentle sweetness on the back end. This particular whisky, a soft and mellow spirit on its own, serves as the perfect backdrop for the unique display of Moscatel character to shine in the forefront. Just like drinking whisky in a beautiful village in the South of France.
Style: Red Wine
So enough about the fortified wine already. How about something matured in, you know, actual no-frills red wine? As it turns out, maturing whisky in a cask that previously held red wine can be rather tricky. If the spirit is left to rest for too long, the bold, tannic nature of the red wine cask can overpower the spirit within. For that reason, finding the right balance is key. Cask 12.25 ‘Stealth truffle pig’ is, in my opinion, one of the best representations of red wine cask finishing we have seen to date. From the first impression to the last, the whisky is unmistakably Speyside; bright and malty, fresh and fruity. Yet in the distance there is a hint of over ripened red fruits and a pop of ginger. Everything is in balance with this whisky, a wonderful feat considering just how delicate this type of cask is to work with.
So which style of wine cask is right for you? If you tend to prefer more classical style of Scotch whisky, give try the Oloroso. Looking for something on the more aromatic, sweeter end of the spectrum? Try the PX or Moscatel. How about something that falls more on the dry and earthy side? Red wine is the style for you. No matter which one you choose, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and challenge your palate. Chances are that with a lineup like this, the reward will be a great one!