Praying to the whisky god!

Gallery: The Wood, That Makes The Whisky

Arguably the single most important contribution to the character of Scotch whisky as we know it comes from the maturation. Here is a tribute to the often overlooked oak cask…

(All images Copyright Johann Brandstaetter, for terms image use please click here)

Before the middle of the 19th century whisky was by and large drunk unaged. Later, wine merchants began storing their precious booze in just about any available empty cask which happened to be mostly Sherry butts. Don’t forget that back then the British Empire was the largest consumer of Spanish Sherry.

Then the 1930s saw the first Bourbon barrels from the United States getting shipped to Scotland as an alternative to the increasingly precious butts. Afterwards it took another fifty years before the Scotch whisky industry started using anything else for the maturation, but nowadays all the stops are out! From Port wine pipes to Caribbean rum casks every imaginable type of cask has been tried for its suitability as a vessel for whisky maturation.

While a number of Scotch whisky distilleries remain fiercely traditional and are only using either Sherry or Bourbon casks for maturation, many others continue to explore new ways to create new expressions of ‘Water of Life’. Some of the new and wild independent bottlers even go so far as to experiment with treating casks with infusions of tea or coffee, a concept that will make the traditionalists cringe in disgust, I am sure…

However, the cask made from European or American oak will remain one of the core elements in the production of Scotch whisky for decades if not centuries to come.

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