The Key to Great Whisky Lies in the Wood
You love your whisky, but what goes into it? Jamey Merkel, the brand ambassador at Beam Global Asia, believes it's all in the wood. Here, we have the lowdown on wood and the effects multiple casks can have on whisky.
The Auchentoshan Three Wood is matured in American bourbon, Spanish Oloroso sherry and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. Why were they used and what's the difference between the three?
While the first two are very common in the making of single malt whisky, the addition of the Pedro Ximenez (PX) cask represents a bit of departure from the norm. This triple cask maturation adds depth of aroma and flavour by highlighting some of the unique flavours from each cask type. American oak adds vanilla/caramel flavours and a bit of a spicy finish, the Oloroso sherry adds fruity notes with sherry overtones, and the PX cask offers a rich, dried fruit flavour, very much like raisins with a hit of orange peel. All three casks give the Auchentoshan Three Wood a taste like no other single malt from Scotland.
It is matured in that particular order (as previous question). Does the order matter?
Yes, because both the time spent in the cask and the influence from the different woods are variable. The order represents a lightest to darkest arrangment, and it's consistent with a normal layering of the different flavours in this whisky.
Are the three casks all first fills? How many times can they be used till they have to be discarded?
It really depends on the cask. In general, for both sherry finishes, it is first fill. But this is left to the discretion of the master whisky maker. In a Scottish single malt, a cask can be used up to three times, but again, it's up to the master. One thing to note: the more fills a cask takes, the less flavour is imparted to the whisky maturing in it.
How much can the whisky absorb from the wood?
Whisky absorbs most of its finished character from the wood, and the importance of the cask used cannot be stressed enough. Auchentoshan has a very rigorous cask management system to ensure the highest quality. Other variables include the fill (1st or 2nd, for example) and the ambient temperature of the warehouse. Climate is a huge factor in ageing.
Is there such a thing as leaving whisky in the cask for way too long?
Definitely. Whisky can become over-matured very quickly. During the end of the maturation process, whisky is tasted on a weekly basis to ensure that doesn't happen. The danger of over-maturation is the production of very strong oaky notes that can make the whisky quite unpalatable.
So wood's basically the number one important factor in making whisky?
Yep. Ageing can impart 60 to 70 per cent of the final flavour in whisky. That said, the quality of the malted barley, water and expertise of the master distiller are important too. To make great whisky, you need great raw ingredients, precise distillation and the best casks.
What does a multi-cask whisky have over single cask?
Multi-cask whisky provides a depth of flavour and aroma you cannot get from a single cask type. When using the latter, you get the dominant flavours provided by those casks. Using three types of wood showcases the best flavours of all three casks in a single whisky, making it truly unique.
What cocktail will you recommend making with the Auchentoshan Three Wood?
My favourite is the Old Fashioned, a simple combination of sugar, bitters and spirit. Try this:
45ml Auchentoshan Three Wood
Dash of sugar syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
A broad piece of orange zest
Stir the whisky, sugar and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. 10 seconds should do it. Strain into a rocks glass with a fresh ice ball. Twist the orange peel for zest on the top and drop in. Enjoy the level of sophistication that comes with making your own cocktail.