10 unusual casks used to age whisky

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Whisky is only as good as the cask it was aged in. Here are ten of the most unusual and terrifically yummy flavours

For all the work done by whisky’s core ingredients—water, barley and yeast—it’s the wood used for maturation that has the biggest impact on flavour. The type of wood used, the size of each barrel, the amount of charring carried out to prepare the barrel and the length of time spent in it all affect the final flavour profile of the spirit. And to further create new flavours, distillers commonly age their whisky in barrels that have previously contained other boozes—with bourbon and sherry among the most commonly deployed vessels. 

To give you an idea of the great variety of casks used to make a whisky unique we take a look at ten terrific boozes, each one using casks you might be less familiar with… 

 

1. Port 

Redbreast 27 Year Old Single Pot Still 

If this Irish Whiskey’s ruddy hue doesn’t hint at the unusual type of cask used, then all will be revealed by the aroma: a heady bouquet of Ruby Port. With some of the whisky spending nearly 30 years in Port casks from the Duoro Valley you can expect a rich and delicious drink full of fruity berry flavours and peppery oak. 

 

2. Garry Oak 

Westland Garryana 4|1 2019

 

Garry Oak is a type of white oak tree that is native to American’s Pacific Northwest and it’s rarely used to make casks. That rarity value appeals to Seattle’s Westland Distillery who have been experimenting with the variety for several years. Their latest release contains whiskey matured in various casks, including Garry Oak and sherry, resulting in a creamy whiskey with dense fruit flavours and some spiky spices.   

 

3. Bordeaux Wine 

Port Charlotte MRC01 7 Year Old

The Bruichladdich distillery are keen experimenters so it’s no surprise to see them filling unusual casks with their whisky. The peaty Port Charlotte MRC01 began life in first fill American Oak and second fill French wine casks before spending its final year maturing in Bordeaux casks. Here the whisky’s peaty notes mingle with sweet toffee, summer berries and toasty oak flavours, adding a touch of French finesse to the finest Islay malt. 

 

4. Tequila  

Chivas Extra 13 Tequila Cask

Master blenders the Chivas Brothers have recently released the first Scottish whisky finished in Mexican Tequila casks. Along with some sweet, peppery notes we also detected a tropical vibe that brought to mind pina coladas. But thankfully those thoughts were fleeting… the exceptional flavour of Chivas whisky was always to the fore. 

 

5. Chestnut 

Kinahan’s KASC Project

Irish distillery Kinahan’s have taken an experimental idea to extreme lengths by making casks out of five different woods. Alongside the common American and French Oaks their cooper also found room for some Hungarian Oak, Portuguese Oak and Chestnut. The resulting blended whisky contains all manner of spicy flavours such as nutmeg and cinnamon and lots of herby and woody notes too. A soft sweetness helps bring it all together for an extremely enjoyable and unusual drinking experience. 

 

6. Japanese Cedar 

Kamiki Whisky 

Apparently, it’s very tricky to make casks from Japanese Cedar (Yoshino Sugi) which is probably why Kamiki’s effort is the first of its kind. The spirit is a light blend of whisky from around the world into which the wood has imparted some sweet, smoky flavours reminiscent of Mezcal. 

 

7. IPA 

Glenfiddich IPA Cask 

Scottish distillers Glenfiddich were so keen to try something new that they first brewed their own IPA beer to mature in casks before handing it over to the whisky. Rather than tasting like an overtly beery spirit the hops and malt have simply tweaked their sweet, spicy whisky in a slightly new direction—perhaps emphasising some of the whisky’s citrus notes that were already at play. 

 

8. Quarter Cask 

Laphroaig Quarter Cask 

For this bottle, Islay distillery Laphroaig finished whisky in casks a quarter the size of regular casks. This means there’s proportionally more wood that comes into contact with the whisky, thus intensifying and exaggerating its effects. Expect some smooth sweetness along with the smoky grains and a dry finish that lingers long. 

 

9. Rum 

Belvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

For a whisky with extra caramel sweetness and lots of creamy vanilla flavours seek out a Speyside dram that has been finished in rum casks, such as this smooth sipping treat from Balvenie. 

 

10. Cognac 

Brenne Cuvee Speciale Single Malt

There are several things that make this whisky unusual, with the most obvious being that it’s made in France. The distillers have used a production method similar to Cognac and, after maturing in Limousin oak casks, it’s finished in Cognac casks. You won’t be surprised to hear that the taste is unusual too, with more than a hint of sweet banana joining the whisky flavours. 

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