Sherry casks have been used to age Scotch whisky for well over 200 years and they have played a crucial role in shaping a number of our blends – most noticeably The Cask Trials and The Tops.
In this short read we explore what we look for when choosing sherry casks and the role they play in allowing certain unique flavors to develop over time.
Firstly, a little history. There has long been a connection between Spain and Scotland and the Scots had a taste for sherry well before whisky – as we know it today – was widely consumed. There are records dating back to the 16th Century of sherry being consumed in Edinburgh and certainly by the 18th Century it had become a ubiquitous drink across much of Scotland. Sometimes consumed straight but more typically in a range of punches and early cocktails.
The Sherry wine was shipped to the ports of Leith or Glasgow in cask throughout a period that happily also saw rapid growth of the Scotch whisky industry. As the sherry wine was disgorged for domestic consumption the casks were refilled with Scotch whisky and one of the longest-running and happiest experiments within Scotch whisky’s rich history began.
Like Scotch whisky itself there is a huge amount of variation within Sherry – it all starts as a dry white wine made from the Palomino grape but fortified and aged in different ways to create styles that range from the bone dry Fino to the rich and sweet Pedro Ximénez. There are also proprietary blends of different styles that bring together the best qualities of various components, in much the same way as a good Blended Scotch Whisky.
We use ex-Sherry casks to add flavor to the maturing whisky. These can be derived from the cask itself (vanilla and coconut notes from American oak and richer tannin structures with dried fruit character from European oak) but also from the way in which the oxidized Sherry wine has interacted with the cask itself over time. Together – with the right cask used in the right way for the right length of time – these can create exceptional flavors evident in whiskies such as The Cask Trials and The Tops that simply cannot be created any other way.