Whisky’s link to old sherry casks
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.