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Whisky - sherry & Oak

spirits

#1

Here’s a question that I hope some of TWS members can help me with:

Whisky is sometimes aged in Sherry casks … acquiring a bronzed hue and desirable + highly distinctive notes of oak , vanilla and spice - mellowing the spirit and becoming a premium priced product - which is (nowadays) the whole point of sherry cask ageing.

My question, is how come the previous occupier of the cask (Sherry) does NOT take on board the same OAK / VANILLA impact?

And a bonus question: I accept that Sherry casks ‘do the rounds’ in Scotland and elsewhere, getting refilled many times over, but Sherry is shipped in bottle not cask. So how does this work economically - is the whisky price boom subsidising the sherry trade?

I genuinely have no connection to the business - I just cant quite equate how it works!


#2

I can’t claim to be an expert here, but the type of sherry has a big influence. Scotch is often aged in Oloroso barrels and Oloroso is much richer, darker and in some (blended) cases is sweet so it is this character that is being imbued. There are examples of whisky aged in fino casks and that is different - lighter and dryer.

As I understand it for some some sherry producers selling on barrels is a significant income stream, so they presumably churn through the them rather faster than those from ancient soleras. I also think they are largely shipped empty!


#3

I’m no expert either, but from memory, Sherry butts don’t impart oak flavour to the maturing wine, so l’m not sure where the added flavours of whisky maturing in butts come from.
I found this, though:

If you scroll down to the ‘Sherry butt’ entry, it gets very interesting indeed!


#4

Many thanks Matt and Inbar. The Difford’s guide article has the answer!

Seems that the fresh ‘Sherry’ casks that go on to be used in the whisky industry… are never involved in actual sherry maturation, the oaky wine that comes out of these casks is instead distilled into Spanish brandy.

So presumably actual Sherry is only matured in very old casks which no longer have much oak influence. These old casks can eventually end up in Scotland but will impart very little oak / vanillin unless reconditioned.

Thanks again for the answers!


#5

I visited Jerez last year (well worth a trip) and one of the producers had almost an entire warehouse full of fresh casks being “sherried” for onward sale to the whisky industry.

The actual casks used for sherry production are properly old (probably more sherry than oak) and they insisted are never sold on.


#6

That’s right! Most producers won’t ever sell a cask that has contained sherry for decades as they are too precious. It takes a long time to establish a working solera, so it’s important to retain those cask that are vinified (envinado).

Those “sherry” cask that make it to the whisky industry have contained lower quality wine for a short period of time so therefore some oak influence could still remain. Another factor is that whisky won’t move from the cask for years while sherry is refreshed somehow by the solera system. Some wines are moved around (called trasiego in Jerez) several times a year.

The final and perhaps more controversial point is that whisky producers are allowed the use of colorants and flavourings… as I heard recently from a whisky buyer of a major supermarket chain.


#7

No prizes for guessing which is which:

The E150 Caramel colour is is the guilty secret in so many whiskies.


#8

Great comparison!


#9

Brilliant visual explanation - many thanks. The casks destined for whisky look brand new!

Strange to think that the whisky industry in Scotland is subsidising the Sherry (and Spanish brandy) industry.

Cheers