One of my favorite Scotches is The Balvenie’s 12 year old DoubleWood. It spends most of its live in a traditional oak whisky cask and then spends a little vacation in a Spanish oak sherry cask. It spends a little time first with bourbon and then with some sherry. It seems that a lot of whisky producers are starting to offer wood finishes as a way to add a bit of variety and spice to their selection (according to Wikipedia, the late 1990s was when they started doing this… but I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it!). While I doubt the DoubleWood was the first, it’s certainly the one I appreciate most often (I also enjoy their PortWood, but as a 21 year old Scotch, it’s not something to enjoy every single day!).
All scotches spend most of their life maturing in an oak cask that once held either bourbon or sherry. The Macallan, for example, relaxes in an American Oak cask that once matured Jim Beam bourbon. The oak itself can be of the American variety or the French variety, with each imparting different characteristics as a result of the tightness of the grain. By Scottish law, all Scotch must be matured for a minimum of three years and one day in order to be called Scotch whisky.
Here are the various wood finishes you might expect to see (notice how many of them finish in casks that once held sweet wines?):
- Sauternes: It is a dessert wine from the Sauternais region (which is in Bordeaux) of France. Glenmorangie Nectar D’or is finished in a Sauternais cask.
- Madeira: Madeira is a fortified Portuguese wine (port) made on the Madeira Islands, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. The Balvenie as a 17 year that’s finished in a Madeira cask.
- Moscatel: Moscatel is a variety of grape and it’s used to make Muscat wine (port). The Arran Malt has a whisky that is finished in Moscatel de Setúbal wine cask (many distillers offer this, include Edradour, Benriach, and others.
- Tawny Port: Tawny Port is a type of port using the Solera process.
- Virgin Oak: Take a cask that was designed to hold bourbon or sherry and skip the bourbon or sherry. The Balvenie New Wood, 17 years, is an example of this.
- Oloroso: A type of sherry, Glenmorangie Lasanta is finished in Oloroso Sherry casks from Jerez, Spain.
The above list is by no means a comprehensive list of all the finishes out there but it’s probably a good start. Note the absence of any Islays… their smokier character probably doesn’t lend itself to finishing.