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Love your sherry casks?

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@Hewie
Hewie started a discussion

I've been off work today and spent the day at home. I stumbled upon a digital copy of "Cask & Still" magazine issue #7 which had a fascinating article entitled "the sham of sherry casks: sherry matured whisky is big business but the casks used to mature this sweet dram are not what you think they are" by Blair Bowman. Essentially, hes talking about the process of artificially creating sherry casks for the whisky industry. As this article isn't easily accessible I found another excellent (and very compreshensive a.k.a long) article online. If you can be bothered peruse (speed read) this article by Ruben Luyten on "sherry casks in the whisky industry". Spoiler alert: this has taken something of the shine off sherry ageing/finishes for me - but it may be old news for you!

whiskynotes.be/sherry-casks-in-the-whisky-…

5 years ago

27 replies

RikS replied

Thank you for the interesting article, and for shattering my romantic notions. I'd, obviously, have presumed that if 'first fill bourbon' means casks previously used for maturing bourbon, then consequently the same would be applying to sherry casks.

Now, I'm still a bit perplexed however about the denominations of "first fill" e.g. Oloroso or PX - I suppose this doesn't mean first use after plating part in real sherry production, but rather "first use of a casks, not used for actually maturing sherry but especially prepared for the whisky industry by artificially infusing inferior qualities of liquid into the wood, however originating in the same bodega as the one you may have purchased in the form of an actual bottle of sherry...".

Yea, that doesn't sound as ruggedly romantic or 'genuine' at all...

5 years ago 4Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt

For my money, the weird part is that this cheap seasoning sherry can still be categorized as Oloroso or Fino or PX or what-have-you.

I am very much not a sherry expert, but I used to always have the impression that only "real" sherry would be taken through the full production processes involving the flor or whatever distinguishes one type from the next. I guess even the cheap seasoning stuff fits into those categories?

5 years ago 3Who liked this?

RikS replied

@MadSingleMalt I suppose that a distilled spirit with malted barley base, left for 3 years and a day at the same location it was distilled, inside wooden casks/barrels (be they formerly hosting bourbon or salted cucumbers), would also effectively classify to be denominated "single malt whisky", irrespective of how vile...

5 years ago 2Who liked this?

@Hewie
Hewie replied

It's all a bit sad really - how they're able to get around requirements this way. I think it was the original article that made it clear that genuine sherry butts are near impossible for distilleries to get hold of - as the Bodegas never actually replace them (due to the manner in which the solera system works - never emptying a barrel by more than 1/3) until they're no good for anything else. The few that become available from shut down Bodegas have been dry for ages and are unsuitable for reuse. Since the law was introduced in 1986 that all Spanish wines all have to be bottled in Spain there has been a lack of casks used for transporting. As an aside, does that negate the argument that the sulfur in sherried malts is from the practice of burning sulfur in casks for preservation purposes? Unless of course these casks are from pre 1986.

5 years ago 0

@MadSingleMalt

@Hewie: "As an aside, does that negate the argument that the sulfur in sherried malts is from the practice of burning sulfur in casks for preservation purposes? Unless of course these casks are from pre 1986."

Can you explain more about what you mean with this question?

5 years ago 0

@Hewie
Hewie replied

@MadSingleMalt my understanding is that the butts used for the production of sherry are never completely emptied and not replaced i.e. they remain in situ and therefore not used for whisky aging. The casks used to transport sherry from Spain around the world were the ones that were then re-purposed for whisky maturation. As of the mid 80's, this practice was discontinued. Many say that the presence of sulfur in sherry cask matured whisky is due to the practice of burning sulfur in the empty casks to preserve them until they were filled with whisky. I (rightly or wrongly) assume that since genuine sherry casks haven't been available since the mid 80's (as casks for sherry maturation of whisky are now 'created' as needed) that the casks may no longer be sulfured as they were in the past. Therefore, unless you're looking at a good old malt, it's probably never seen a sulfur treated sherry cask. Does that make more sense of my logic?

5 years ago 1Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt

@Hewie, isn't it the opposite?

Because the seasoned casks are today shipped empty from Spain, they have to be treated with sulfur candles?

And in the old days, the transport casks were sent to the UK full of sherry, so there was no need to treat them?

5 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Hewie
Hewie replied

@MadSingleMalt you may well be right. I guess I was working on the idea that in the good ol' days the full casks wouldn't be emptied then refilled straight away, whereas the more modern 'made to order' sherry casks wouldn't sit around as long. It seem so antiquated to use sulfur candles as a preserver when there must be much better non contaminating options available.

5 years ago 1Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt

@Hewie, yeah, I hear ya.

I recently bought a bottle of Amrut Intermediate Sherry, and I'm looking forward to tasting how "clean" it supposedly is. As I guess the story goes, since Amrut's not bound by the same rules as our Scottish friends, they can ship their spirit to Spain and have it filled directly into the fresh sherry casks. No cask treatment & shipment!

5 years ago 2Who liked this?

@casualtorture

Ageing? Isn't it "aging"? I've never seen that spelling. Off topic but caught my eye.

5 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Hewie
Hewie replied

@casualtorture ha ha as I'm antipodean we use the UK spellings i.e colour, flavour, centre, organise, oesophagus, defence......and ageing (all of which have been highlighted as misspelt as I type). I'm sure it must look funny when you're accustomed to seeing it spelt differently laughing

5 years ago 6Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt

I've never seen the spelling "ageing." Please advice.

5 years ago 0

@OdysseusUnbound

@Hewie I’m partial to “ageing”, but “spelt” is a grain (to me) whereas “spelled” is the past tense of “spell”. grinning

5 years ago 2Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge replied

@Hewie, sulfur (in whisky or distillate) can come from the stills as well as casks, it can come from the charring process as well, and of course from candles/sulfur treatment.

5 years ago 2Who liked this?

@OdysseusUnbound

@paddockjudge But isn’t sulphur from the still usually perceived as meatiness, whereas “cask” sulphur is much less pleasant, like spent matches or rotten eggs (i.e. Macallan Brimstone Cask) ?

5 years ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@Hewie I am waging a losing war here in Canada over proper spelling...

People complain of GERD, and I treat them for GORD.

They want me to order an EGD, I order an OGD,=.

I don't talk to hematologists or pediatricians, but I recently collaborated with a paediatric haematologist.

I could go one, but Aesclepius's snake will bite me...

5 years ago 3Who liked this?

@Hewie
Hewie replied

@Nozinan ha ha keep fighting the good fight even if you start feeling anaemic and begin to haemorrhage. It's all just verbal diarrhoea anyway

5 years ago 1Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge replied

@OdysseusUnbound, sulfur as "meatiness", struck match is from yeast (Dimethyl Trisulfide). Sulfur as onion, garlic (Dimethyl Disulfide) is also from yeast as is vegetable/vegetal, cauliflower, potato corn (Dimethyl Sulfide) and last, but not least is the classic yeasty, rotten egg (Hydrogen Sulfide). All o the above can be from yeast. You are wondering what my source is?...none other than the good doctor, no, not @Nozinan, but Dr. Livermore....who else would know that all that good sh*t!?!

5 years ago 2Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge replied

@Hewie, that is indeed an extensive piece of information with regard to sulphur. We sometimes become focused on bits of information and don't always consider the larger picture...To quote Pope,

A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.

5 years ago 3Who liked this?

@RianC
RianC replied

@Hewie - You spell the right way laughing

I genuinely hate it when spell checker tells me I've made a mistake and highlights my writing red when I know it's corekt!

@MadSingleMalt - I think you may be right about the older casks seeing less sulphur. One of the things I notice a lot in sherry matured whisky is a sickly sweet, syrupy taste/texture that always gives the impression someone just poured cheap sherry straight into the vatting tub. It's not all by any means, oloroso casks don't seem to fall foul of this as much; but it's that note that turns me off sherry matured whisky rather than sulphur notes per se.

5 years ago 2Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

From the final page of the linked article, second paragraph:

"...marketing is eager to create a false artisan image of the highly industrial processes that are driving the production of whisky...."

This is good to know. Thank you @whiskynotes! Nope, there is no romanticism here, just sloshing some very young never-intended-for-drinking sherry around in some oak barrels for 18+/- months to give the idea of the influence of matured wine.

While knowing the truth about these processes is a very good thing, this does not increase my appetite for sherried malt.

5 years ago 4Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@Victor As someone who has made gefilte fish... Sometimes it's better not to think about the process and look at the final product.

If they are following the rules, not putting us in danger, and coming out with a good product, like Amrut Intermediate Sherry or Macallan CS (which also used sherry-seasoned casks), I think that's the most important thing. Transparency, of course, is expected.

5 years ago 3Who liked this?

Mackstine replied

Someone once told me that if you love sherry matured whisky and want to help, the best thing you can do is petition every whisky drinker you know to buy a bottle of sherry..... and pour it down the drain laughing

5 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Hewie
Hewie replied

@Victor I agree it's a bit sad sometimes to know the truth - ignorance is bliss. But as @Nozinan says, if you enjoy the final product it may pay to ignore the process. I felt the same way when I made haggis from scratch - I'm not a fan of offal but the finished product was worth it.

5 years ago 1Who liked this?

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@RianC@paddockjudge@cricklewood@OdysseusUnboundR + 1 others