‘A whisky gets its ageing and maturation in a cask?’ Specky asked in a tone replete with incredulity. I didn’t answer and so after a while, he went on, ‘I wish we could put all our immature professionals in a cask and let them out only once they were of the right blend and delicacy of taste. Why remain content with having great whisky?’
I said, ‘It is good to let your imagination run all over once in a while. And I’m sure there’ll be a time in the future where we’ll have casks instead of prisons.’
‘Hey, what about placing these casks in the parliament too?’ she asked, ‘It’ll be great to sit tight in a sherry cask and deliberate on vital legislative issues. The result will surely have a better aroma at least!’ We laughed.
But this small discussion got me curious about the actual role of casks for maturation of a whisky. I asked the right people and read about it on the net and discovered that ageing of a whisky, unlike the ageing of a wine, stops once it is bottled. So when we talk of triple maturation for the Black Dog TGR, the mix of matured single malt and matured grain whisky is finally sent for its third phase of maturation in a sherry cask.
When I told Specky about this, she asked, ‘Does this mean that only the quality of cask matters and not the quality of barley?’
Well, both matter. The nature and quality of the cask is equally vital. These casks are, naturally, made of wood… oak wood as it is flexible enough to get moulded into the shape of a cask. Oak, moreover, adds that distinctive character and flavour that differentiates the best from the better whisky. The casks used are the ones that have been used earlier for the maturation of either bourbon or sherry. New casks tend to lend that woodiness which isn’t good for whisky’s fine flavour.
One blogger has done painstaking research on casks and informs on his blog: ‘Sherry casks are more expensive than bourbon casks, and account for only 7% of all casks imported for whisky maturation. In addition to transferring flavours from their former contents, sherry casks also lend maturing spirit a heavier body and a deep amber color. For this reason, single malt scotches that have been matured in sherry casks are prized by blenders and usually fetch a price premium.’
Sherry casks can bear repeat fillings… though this will obviously mean that less of the wood’s character gets transferred and thus every lot will have a whisky with a unique flavour of its own.
I also stumbled upon an interesting bit of information on sherry casks. One comment on a blog informed that the reason sherry casks get expensive is because due to regulations the sale of filled barrels of sherry is prohibited (which implies that sherry needs to be in glass bottles to be sold). As a result, the Scotch distilleries have to buy empty sherry casks to use for aging whisky. Now, an empty sherry barrel picks up bacteria if they aren’t reused immediately and they thus have to be cleansed by burning sulphur candles inside. Post cleansing, the barrels need to be thoroughly rinsed or a noticeable sulphur character may just impregnate the whisky that goes in for maturation. This entire cycle increases the cost of sherry casks.
Specky was fascinated by all this information and said, ‘This makes me appreciate the blend of Triple Gold Reserve all the more now.’
Well, the truth is that it is the triple maturation that give Black Dog TGR its delicate finish and gets it accepted at parallel with any 12 Y.O blend.
Disclaimer: The content of this post is meant only for people above the age of 25.
04 May 2014