In the Second Part of our two part piece we explain why casks are different and what that means for independent bottlers. With insight into industrial practices we lift the lid on how the 20 million unique casks the currently sit in storage in Scotland are going to be overseen.
There are multiple reasons for every cask being unique, but the main one is the wood. From the origin of the cask there exists the huge opportunity for differentiation. They may have the same wood and even be from the same type of tree; European Oak, American Oak and Japanese Oak are each used to create casks and each are associated with different flavour profiles. and Given that they are taken directly from nature, each tree or plank of wood will have its own unique quirks that will impact their ability to express flavour. The selected wood will be made into a cask, of which there are a variety of types which will impact flavour – typically the smaller the cask the more wood contact and more intense the flavour becomes.
For the Scotch Whisky distillery it would be more than difficult to source all of your casks from one specific location; When a distillery sources its casks from a cooperage, typically the cooperage will provide casks and wood which have previously contained Bourbon, Whiskey, Port, Rum and Sherry among other spirits from different distilleries. The casks/wood will be in varying condition depending on its age, how well it was cared for and the environment it was kept in prior to being in the cooperage. The distillery will acquire a batch of these varied casks based on criteria like size and what spirit they previously contained. However no matter how specific they are, the batch of casks will always be slightly different – for instance you may get a selection of bourbon casks that come not just from Jack Daniels but Heaven Hill or Buffalo Creek. Recently stocks of casks have been getting rarer, so distilleries enjoy less choice on their casks! During the period of maturation, where the distillery has filled the casks with their spirit and placed it in their warehouse, further differentiation takes place. Whether it’s a wild coastal warehouse on Islay or a sleepy nestled lodging in Speyside, each warehouse is different and each cask location in the warehouse is unique having varying access to natural light and temperatures. Some of the big Whisky companies disperse casks from different distilleries to different warehouses to avoid fire-risk, ensuring that an entire distillery’s output is not destroyed. For that reason you may find casks from Islay sitting in the Highlands or other whisky regions.
Searching and acquiring quality unique casks is the role of the independent bottler. Our limited run single cask releases, sometimes only a few hundred bottles, give light to those casks that couldn’t fit the usual distillery formula. In other instances we acquire young casks from the distillery to mature at our discretion in our own warehouses, sometimes near the Whisky’s home region and other times in totally different regions to provide a cask that is whole heartedly unique.