CASK OF THE MONTH
Continuing his quest to explore the finer points of maturation, SMWS ambassador Lee ‘Connas’ Connor delves into the effects that previous cask fills have on maturing whisky, specifically rum
A “BLANK” CANVAS?
It’s not only whisky producers who take advantage of oak maturation with a view to manipulate and improve the quality of their product. Beer, wine, brandy and tequila all have a rich history of using oak barrels, historically for the transportation of liquid, which consequently influenced its flavour.
Given that Scottish distillers usually use casks that have a previous filling (mostly in the bourbon industry, and occasionally sherry), what effect does the previous fill have on the eventual whisky?
DRIPS AND DREGS
From a scientific point of view, very little has been proven in terms of the influence that previous fills have on the flavour of the eventual whisky. What we can say is that spirit kept in used wood will interact with the previous occupant once it begins to absorb into the staves. In the case of rum casks, which are themselves usually sourced from American oak via the bourbon industry, our Spirits Team have noticed quite a potent influence.
Euan Campbell, the Society’s head of whisky creation, explains: “Rum casks are challenging to work with, because they can be very impactful. When they work well they can be a joy though, providing complementary zingy fruit flavours and some estery funk.”
THEORY TO PRACTICE
Given that our experience suggests that the punch of flavour from a former rum cask can be quite powerful, in this month’s UK Outturn we’ve matched a Trinidad rum barrel with a spirit that has some backbone.
Euan continues: “In the case of Cask No. 66.231: Honey in the grill tray, the fact that it’s peated spirit means that there’s plenty to stand up to the robust rum influence. It’s herbal, floral, tropical and medicinal. Quite a unique proposition, less about having active oak and more about the full flavoured previous occupant.”
Even the tasting notes suggest quite a heady ride: “Refined aromas gathered heather, orange blossom and croissants around burning gorse, bacon-flavoured crisps and salted ham served with horseradish sauce. Sweet meaty flavours continued on the palate but now with barbecue notes and soot covering honey-roasted parsnips, meringue and toasted pine nuts. Water made the aromas sweeter and more medicinal, with antiseptic notes and red shoelace sweets. Finally, singed cashews arrived on burnt toast topped with cumin before hints of the grill tray rounded out the finish. Seven years in an ex-bourbon barrel before being transferred to a refill Trinidad rum barrel.”
As always, we find ways to deliver an inimitable experience via the medium of single malt Scotch.
The decision on how well it has worked lies with you.