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Ex Sherry casks are among the most sought after assets in the Whisky industry. They provide a wealth of flavours that include dried fruits, cloves and cinnamon in addition to variations of richness depending on the quality of the cask.
There are different styles of Sherry and understanding them helps to anticipate a Whisky’s profile. With the help of the bodega we primarily use at Lady of the Glen, we can reveal the key characters of the main styles of Sherry and what you can expect from a Scotch matured in that style of cask.
Jerez de la Frontera and the surrounding area is the centre of the Sherry industry. The southern Spanish town enjoys a hot and sunny Mediterranean climate and the surrounding vineyards benefit from a coaling westerly wine called the Poniente. The soil in the area possesses a high chalk content which ensures good drainage but the soil also enjoys excellent water holding capacity so the vines can be sustained in the long, hot summers.
Jerez has 3 grape varieties, Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Muscat of Alexandria.
Palomino is the most common and is used to produce wine ideal for sherry as it has little acidity and lacks aroma character.
Pedro Ximenez, similar to Palomino with little character but the lack of thick skin makes it more suitable for sun drying and as a sweet fortified wine aka Sherry. Very little is planted in Jerez.
Muscat of Alexandria, is used in a similar way as PX for sweet wines.
In the autumn the wine maker will decide if the wine is suited for biological ageing or oxidative aging. Lighter wines are more suited to biological aging while darker and richer wines will be sent for oxidative aging. The difference in the types of aging is down to the desire to have flor. Flor is a yeast that appears on top of the wine. The flor converts the sugar into alcohol but also the depth of the flor will determine the amount of oxygen that reaches the wine, the greater the barrier between the wine and oxygen the less acidity but less the oxidation. In biological aging the winemaker will fortify the wine (add 96?V alcohol) to increases the total alcohol content to between 15% and 15.5% in order to develop the flor. Flor should add a fresh taste and flavours associated with bread.
The wine maker that uses oxidative aging will fortify the wine to 17% so the flor will not happen at all as there is no requirement for further flavour development. Whisky drinkers, will typically be more familiar with Oxidative aging Wines, as these are the Olorosso and Pedro Ximenez while Amontillado is a combination of both types of aging. Sherry matured this way can be matured for as long 30 years where as biological aging can only go so far as seven years as the flor fails under oxidative pressure. As the wine rises in maturity the ABV will increase as the water level evaporates.
The Solera system
Sherry is matured in 600 litre oak barrels called butts. The butts may have previously been used for unfortified wine and when they are filled with sherry they are only five-sixths full, this is to allow the wine to have contact with oxygen while also allowing space for the flor to develop where it is desired.
In the solera system butts of different vintages and styles are held at varying levels and they are blended with each other to achieve a blend of young and old wine. At the end level, named the Solera, wine is taken to be bottled but the stock is never emptied instead it is replenished so the system is always active and maturing.
In light of the constant blending and replenishing of wine, an average age of stock is provided and the main advantage of the Solera system is the consistency in the product.
The end product
The solera system allows for the creation of consistent sherry at the same quality. When the casks are of no use to the Sherry industry anymore they are acquired by the Whisky industry for maturation. The cask will then breathe some of the flavours and characteristics into the maturing scotch from its previous sherry contents.
The characteristics of the different Sherries can now be explored so expect some of these traits in Whiskies matured in casks that previously contained these styles.
The product of the complete fermentation of the palomino grape. Olorosos are "vocational" wines whose special structures, apparent from the very beginning, indicate to the tasters that their destiny is that of oxidative ageing. An initial fortification to 17% by volume prevents the development of the film of flor, and thus the wine slowly ages in constant contact with oxygen as it descends through the traditional criaderas and solera system. The gradual loss of water through the wooden walls of the cask facilitates a process of concentration which enables the wine to gain in structure, smoothness and complexity. Ranging from rich amber to deep mahogany in colour, the darker the wine the longer it has been aged. Warm, rounded aromas which are both complex and powerful. Predominantly nutty bouquet (walnuts), with toasted, vegetable and balsamic notes reminiscent of noble wood, golden tobacco and autumn leaves. There are noticeable spicy, animal tones suggestive of truffles and leather. Full flavoured and structured in the mouth. Powerful, well-rounded and full bodied.
Amontillado is a unique wine produced from the complete fermentation of palomino grape and is a fusion of the two different types of ageing processes. Amontillado is an extraordinarily complex and interesting sherry.
The first stage of its ageing process takes place under a film of flor and these early years spent in the criaderas lend the wine a sharp pungent note which enhances its dryness on the palate. At a given moment in time the flor begins to disappear, giving way to a second stage of oxidative ageing which gradually darkens the wine and enhances its concentration and complexity. This wine which ranges from pale topaz to amber in colour. Its subtle, delicate bouquet has an ethereal base smoothed by aromas of hazelnut and plants; reminiscent of aromatic herbs and dark tobacco. Light and smooth in the mouth with well-balanced acidity; both complex and evocative, giving way to a dry finish and lingering aftertaste with a hint of nuts and wood.
Fino sherry. Derived from the total fermentation of palomino grape. The base wine is fortified to 15% of alcohol by volume with the aim of favouring the development of the film of Flor, the natural protection made up of yeasts which will prevent the wine oxidizing during the ageing process whilst at the same time providing certain very special organoleptic characteristics. The biological ageing process has a duration of at least two years and is carried out inside casks of American oak-wood by means of the traditional criaderas and solera system.
The taste notes Range from bright straw yellow to pale gold in colour. A sharp, delicate bouquet slightly reminiscent of almonds with a hint of fresh dough and wild herbs. Light, dry and delicate on the palate leaving a pleasant, fresh aftertaste of almonds.
Paolo Cortado is an extremely rare style which possess the aroma character of Amontillado; hazelnut and plants, reminiscent of aromatic herbs and dark tobacco but with the richness of Olorosso.
Pedro Ximenez (PX)
Pedro Ximénez wine is obtained from grapes of the same name which then undergo a traditional process known as "sunning", whereby the fruit turns to raisins. Musts are obtained after pressing which have an extraordinarily high concentration of sugars and a certain degree of colouring, whose fermentation is stopped by adding wine alcohol. Ageing is exclusively oxidative in nature, facilitating a progressive aromatic concentration and increasing complexity, though always ensuring not to lose the fresh, fruity characteristics of the grape variety. A dark, ebony coloured wine with pronounced tearing and a thickness to the eye. In the nose its bouquet is extremely rich with predominantly sweet notes of dried fruits such as raisins, figs and dates, accompanied by the aromas of honey, grape syrup, jam and candied fruit, at the same time reminiscent of toasted coffee, dark chocolate, cocoa and liquorice. Velvety and syrupy in the mouth and yet with enough acidity to mitigate the extreme sweetness and warmth of the alcohol leading to a lingering, tasty finish.
Is another variety of naturally sweet which is similar to PX except they have a dried citrus peel character.
While we are waiting to see how Scotch performed at the end of 2019, it can be reasonably assumed that 2019 was a good year for Scotch despite hardships such as the US Tariff issue for single malts and various missed Brexit deadlines impacting the industry. As of August export volumes were up 5.4%, so on the back of relative success what will 2020 bring to the Scotch Whisky industry and where will Lady of the Glen fit into this?
It is possible to see that Scotch is slowly adapting to compete with other national spirit drinks through, more specifically, the laws that govern how Whisky is allowed to be matured. Changes to the SWA regulations now allow the maturation of Scotch to take place in such casks as ex-tequila which was previously not allowed so in 2020 there would be an expectation for greater emphasis on the cask and sources of differentiation through that. Admittedly, I have no plans to finish or mature any stock out of anything aside from Port, Sherry and certain wines but that’s not to say if a particularly interesting cask came along I wouldn’t want to try it.
It can be very challenging to be truly innovative in an industry where part of the definition for Scotch is for ‘traditional evidence’ of a practice taking place before. However, genuine sources of innovation that we can expect to see in 2020 and beyond will be mainly down to the production side, such as the use of alternative higher yield barley and yeast strains which produce specific flavours in the growing absence of traditional brewers yeast. In light of this, there has already been a greater amount of new spirit available for sale at retail level which is a trend I see continuing. Other sources of innovation, which have already been widely acknowledged, are in reduced energy production and recycling water supplies which although may not have an impact on spirit can reduce long term overheads and the carbon footprint. However, I would like to add that although re-racking and using different styles of casks is not innovative, it should still be acknowledged that Scotch is an incredibly diverse product with different regional flavours that can be further differentiated within distillery character and that cask management adds even further complexity and differentiation. Compared to other distilled products I believe Scotch is in an incredibly enviable position but that it shouldn’t be taken for granted or overly simplified.
In other industries, which are more flexible with their regulations, I believe we’ll see a greater reduction in the role of maturation. In light of the costs associated with holding stock for a prolonged period of time, the unpredictable nature of aspects of maturation and also the greater desire to get products into market more quickly there is now a growing need to shorten or skip maturation. There are already in existence well publicized products that are completely artificial and created in lab that are designed to bear as close a resemblance as possible to cask matured Whiskey and there are condensed wood liquids/supplements that can be added to new spirit to create a wood influence. Maturation is an incredibly valuable step in the production of high quality spirit and it shouldn’t be assumed to be a simple process where wood is infused in the Whisky, I wrote a blog on this in which you can learn more about the valuable role of wood. I would hope that Scotch never abandons the principles of the Rule of 3, one of which is the requirement for a minimum of 3 years maturation, which was originally devised to ensure quality across the industry.
Further ahead, I can see a growth in other forms of grain used for worldwide distillation and the increase costs of barley as demands for food increase with population growth worldwide and by countries attempting to replicate the Single Malt barley distillation process used in Scotland rather than using locally sourced grains.
For Lady of the Glen, our traditional cask selection and maturation process are not anticipated to change for the next 12 months. We still plan on having four outruns this year, the first of which will be released this month and include a first fill bourbon barrel of Lochindaal, a collection of first fill Pedro Ximenez Octave releases and some fantastic 2004 Glen Elgin and Teaninch that has been finished in our Tawny and Ruby Port. The labeling and packaging will be changing and I look forward to revealing this shortly and there will be new products launched among the second outrun of 2020 so please stay tuned.
One of the most interesting topics of discussion at festivals I've been at recently is the casks or bottles we wished we’d held on to; either because they are now more valuable or they meant something special to us.
Here's my list.
Lady of the Glen, Caperdonich. We released this in 2014 and it was the rarest thing I had sold at the time. The 19-year-old ex-bourbon cask release cost £86 back then. What I recall most about it was the colour, it was almost green! The Caperdonich distillery was, and is silent, so for Lady of the Glen it was a really big statement release which helped draw further distribution of our range into Europe and Asia.
Lady of the Glen, 21-year-old Littlemill. Another release from 2014, which looking back was a bountiful year for silent distillery releases. Littlemills were typically not well reviewed and this release sort of fell into my lap; the colour of pinot grigio, it was light, soft and fruity. At the time it was selling for around £91, but when I last checked it was much more expensive.
Lady of the Glen, Sherry Hogshead Port Charlotte. This was a cask we released last year but it was so sherried and so popular that I wish I still had at least a case of it left. This fantastic bacon and maple syrup dram was acquired from a private seller and the majority of it when to East Asia. I’ve had regular requests from all over for more bottles but there’s genuinely none left. Matured in a first-fill sherry hogshead in 2002 and bottled in 2018, it was the definitive Islay ‘sherry bomb’.
Lady of the Glen, 2008 Sherry Tobermory. Released in 2017, on the face of it this Tobermory wasn’t that interesting, I bought it as part of a parcel with other Bourbon hogsheads of Tobermory and I’d not even tried a sample. What made this release different was that its ABV of 68.2% was very high. Tasting of dark chocolate, spice and treacle, this was another sherry bomb. Explosive in the sense that it gave me heartburn at each sip, but it was special stuff! This sold for around £65 at the time but I wish I kept a case of it because it was smooth and fruit
Probably the bottle that has risen in value the fastest is the Lady of the Glen Macallan release from 2017. Originally finished in an octave, it was small outrun of only 20 bottles. This 1990 vintage was bottled at 27 years old. I had wooden boxes especially made and it came with an initial price tag of around £1,000 before it rose as demand increased. What made this release particularly interesting was the way it sold, it sat idle on the site for months because it was a UK exclusive and then all the bottles sold in a few hours. It was actually a worrying moment because I thought there was a glitch in my system. But after speaking to one of the buyers, I discovered that a group of friends who bought whisky had picked up on it. I do have one bottle of this left and the last time I checked it had doubled in value and is still going strong.
Take a scroll through our archive to discover more of our past releases. Do you have Lady of the Glen or other whiskies you wish you’d kept or acquired?
This year we are proud to be at the Glasgow Whisky Festival for the 2nd time.
We will have the below releases available on the day for sampling.
Glenlossie 8 Year Old 2010 cask #8645 Ex-Ruby Port Cask finish Lady of the Glen. 56.8?V
On the palate, expect nutty, fudge treacle and dried fig flavours.
Glenlossie 8 Year Old 2010 cask #8643 Ex-Tawny Port Cask finish. Lady of the Glen. 54.6?V
On the palate, expect flavours of honeycomb, tobacco and red fruits. (Only available for sale at the festival)
Glenallachie 13 Year Old 2005 Bourbon Hogshead with Ex-Marsala wine cask finish. Cask #901062. 65.1%. ABV
On the palate, expect stewed apricot, vanilla and butter flavours.
Strathmill 11 Year Old 2007 Bourbon Hogshead with Ex-Tawny Port Cask finish. #807834. 56.8?V
On the palate, expect crème caramel, ginger and walnut flavours.
Tamdhu 11 Year Old 2007 cask #6833 – Bourbon Hogshead. 61.6?V
On the palate Vanilla ice cream, toffee and baked bread
Under the table we'll have:
ARDMORE VINTAGE 2009
GLEN ELGIN VINTAGE 2008 EX-TAWNY PORT CASK FINISH
BOWMORE VINTAGE 2002
By Gregor Hannah, founder of Lady of the Glen
I was delighted that Lady of the Glen was named ‘Best Scottish Spirit’ at the recent Scotsman Food and Drink Awards 2019. The ceremony, held at Brewhemia in Edinburgh, celebrated the success of Scotland’s vibrant food and drink scene by producers across the country.
Lee MacGregor and Isabella McNamara, of Mitchel MacGregor Public Relations, accepted the award on my behalf as I was in New York. Winning this award was initially met with muted surprise as I had just checked into my hotel after a long-haul flight and lengthy transfer, however, the next day when I had a chance to take it in, I was over the moon.
I would like to thank Scotland’s distillers and the cask makers from Europe and the US who produce the exceptional stock that I use to create my products. I acquire rare casks from Scotland’s best distilleries to mature and release under the brand. I do not distil Scotch, I just manage it. I do not build casks, I just select them, so without their craftsmanship, I couldn’t produce the releases that have put Lady of the Glen in a position to win awards.
Every Lady of the Glen release is bottled at cask strength, with no colourings or chill filtering, keeping the process as natural as possible, paying respect to the distiller’s spirit craftsmanship. Careful cask management is key and we only release casks when they are ready, offering bottles of exceptional flavour that are unique, drinkable, and collectable. Often, casks of the same spirit will be finished in different ways to create different releases from the same source. This makes Lady of the Glen whisky totally unique. To ensure quality, I taste-test all the whisky and will only bottle it if I am 100% happy with the outcome.
My plan is to build and develop relationships with bodegas in Portugal, France and Spain amongst others in Europe in the hope that the good work continues and I can source the exceptional casks that make Lady of the Glen so special. I seek out these casks based on their quality, rarity, flavour and flavour potential. Each cask has its own spirit and story to tell. To all those distillers in Scotland, all I can say is thank you, you’re the best at what you do and I’ll always be in your debt.
I’d like to thank the judges and panel at The Scotsman Food and Drink for selecting Lady of the Glen. Lee and Isabella who have helped with my strategy and to polish Lady of the Glen into a better brand.
The Prince’s Trust and specifically Richard Gibson who helped me to develop my business plan when I first started and to get my initial application for funding support.
My distributors and customers who buy the stock and who have proved so loyal and generous with their feedback. I will continue to source the best casks available and endeavour to release casks that you continue to enjoy.
I’m delighted that the processes we have in place at Lady of the Glen to create unique, rare single cask, single malt whisky has been recognised with this best Scottish Spirit Award.