Whisky’s link to old sherry casks

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - AMATEUR DRAMMER -

From my of­fice here in In­ver­ness it is (by car any­way) a lit­tle un­der 2000 miles to the Span­ish town of Jerez de la Fron­tera.

Jerez and its sur­round­ing area is as fa­mous for its sherry as Spey­side is for its whisky.

So why am I sit­ting down to write an ar­ti­cle about Jerez’s most fa­mous ex­port?

Yes, it is In­ter­na­tional Sherry Week next week, but why should whisky en­thu­si­asts be in­trigued by sherry, you may ask?

Prob­a­bly be­cause the sherry and whisky in­dus­tries have been his­tor­i­cally linked for hun­dreds of years and con­tinue to be in­ter­twined to­day.

The for­ti­fied wine from south­ern Spain has a huge bear­ing on the styles and flavours in many of the whiskies that we en­joy to­day.

The sherry in­dus­try re­lies on the whisky in­dus­try and the re­verse is also true – the bal­ance of the re­la­tion­ship has changed over the years some­what but a con­sid­er­able code­pen­dency still ex­ists.

Sherry is a for­ti­fied wine that orig­i­nates from the south of Spain, specif­i­cally from an area re­ferred to as the “Sherry Tri­an­gle.”

The tri­an­gle runs be­tween the Span­ish towns of Jerez de la Fron­tera, San­lú­car de Bar­rameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria.

Sherry is re­garded as one of the world’s old­est wines with writ­ten ref­er­ences go­ing back to al­most 1100BC.

Un­til around the early 1980s sherry, rather than be­ing bot­tled then trans­ported, was his­tor­i­cally shipped in cask and bot­tled in the des­ti­na­tion coun­try.

The time that the liq­uid spent in the cask prior to bot­tling would be long enough to im­bue sherry flavour com­pounds within the wood of these casks.

Once at its des­ti­na­tion the cask would be emp­tied and the re­sult­ing casks would be reused.

Typ­i­cally these cask would end up be­ing used for ma­tur­ing whisky.

As a mat­ter of course casks ac­tu­ally used in the pro­duc­tion of sherry are (both his­tor­i­cally and presently) rarely used in the in­dus­try.

By the early 1980s the reg­u­la­tory body for sherry in Spain, the Con­sejo Reg­u­lador, as well as the in­dus­try it­self was look­ing to pro­tect its brand and as such be­gan a grad­ual shift in en­sur­ing that sherry must be pro­duced AND bot­tled within the pre­vi­ously de­fined Sherry Tri­an­gle.

This there­fore negated the use of these trans­port casks that we were hap­pily reusing for our whisky.

This change in pol­icy caused a huge drop in the num­bers of casks avail­able to the Scotch whisky in­dus­try.

The lack of trans­port casks amidst the con­tin­ued de­mand from the whisky in­dus­try has cre­ated a whole new subindus­try within the sherry sec­tor.

The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of sherry casks used in the whisky in­dus­try to­day are es­sen­tially sherry-sea­soned casks made specif­i­cally for ma­tur­ing whisky.

Whisky com­pa­nies will deal with their cooper­ages of choice who will cre­ate casks to their ex­act spec­i­fi­ca­tions and then fill them with sherry for any­where be­tween six months to two years be­fore be­ing sent on­wards to be used to ma­ture whisky.

It may sound slightly du­plic­i­tous but, in ef­fect, these casks are very sim­i­lar to the trans­port casks pre­vi­ously used as they were usu­ally made of new wood and only held the sherry for a short time.

Whisky drinkers will see var­i­ous sherry brand names and styles proudly men­tioned on the la­bels of some of their favourite bot­tles of whisky and will no doubt be fa­mil­iar with the ter­mi­nol­ogy, but how many of us can say we fully un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate where the sherry in­flu­ences in our drams come from?

Why not join me for a night ex­plor­ing the world of sherry at my next tast­ing on Wed­nes­day, Novem­ber 6 when you can learn more about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween sherry and our na­tional drink?

Tick­ets are only avail­able from Ama­teurDram­mer.com/events

•A■drew Flatt is an in­de­pen­dent whisky writer and re­viewer based in In­ver­ness.

He writes and ed­its his own web­site Ama­teurDram­mer.com as well as con­tribut­ing to sev­eral other pub­li­ca­tions.

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