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  • Writer's picturemichael milloy

What about whisky casks ?

Scotch Whisky casks

Were you aware that not all Scotch whisky is matured in barrels? Strictly speaking, although most people refer to the maturation vessel as a barrel, this term is one of a number of names given to casks, usually determined by its size. So, a barrel is in fact a cask, but a cask is not always a barrel. Here is a selection of the main terms used to differentiate the various types of casks used in Scotch whisky maturation.

There is no standard definition as to what size of cask Scotch whisky should be matured in but it will almost always be in a refill cask made of oak. Usually American or European. Typically, there are 4 main types of cask that whisky aging takes place in.

1 Barrel or American standard barrel.

These have typically previously been used for American Bourbon and are made of charred American white oak. They are the smallest used in bulk supply at around 200 litres. Smaller casks give more liquid to wood contact through the maturation years meaning more character from the charred cask ends up in the whisky.

2 Hogshead

Slightly larger than the barrel at about 240 litres. These are still typically American oak. Often these are rebuilt casks, using the wood from barrels to make larger capacity vessels. Less wood contact influences on the whisky to allow for other flavours, such as peated malt to play their part. It is key that the distiller chooses the right cask to be aged for the right amount of time in order to achieve the balance of wood, peat, malted barley and other flavours to all play their part to achieve the required balance and finish. The distiller is often predicting a flavour and character that will be achieved after 12 years in the cask.

3 Butt / Puncheon

Sherry butts and puncheons are much larger casks at 480 to 500 litres in size. They have been used for sherry previously giving a distinct impact on the whisky maturing inside. Often flavours such as fruit cake, sultanas and crème brulee are used to describe whisky that has matured in sherry butts. The difference in these is that the puncheon is shorter and wider than the butt, giving different character and finish.

4 Of course, there are many other types of cask at the hands of distillers. Whisky distilleries will often use casks previously used for wine, port, brandy or rum at the end of maturation, typically maturing for a further 6 months in a special cask to add another level of complex flavouring to an already aged whisky. These provide great scope for adding depth of character to whisky and can be used for a special or limited bottling or an annual release campaign.

This is just one aspect of whisky making, where a master distiller or blender uses their expertise to create wonderfully complex liquids unique to their own brands.

5 Investing in whisky casks

Did you also know that many distilleries offer the opportunity to purchase a cask of whisky as an investment for the future? This is especially beneficial to young start up distilleries. It can generate not only a loyal consumer base for the future, that has a passion for whisky, but also, very importantly a positive cash flow, whilst the long aging process of producing the beautiful liquid is underway. This can be of mutual benefit to both the distillery, who cannot sell one drop of whisky until it is at least 3 years old, and the cask investor when maturation is complete, with a little luck gets a return on the investment if they decide to sell. It can be held for many years and will continue to grow in value as it matures.

Of course, like any investment, a return is not always guaranteed, and there will be tax and duty implications depending on how your cask will be used at the end of maturation. So make you understand the full implications of making such a purchase before you hand over your money, which will be in thousands of pounds.

If you are thinking of coming to Scotland, or indeed are already here and interested in investment I can introduce you to brokers with access to many options to suit all budgets. Let me work with you and build the perfect trip for you and your party. Call me for a no obligation consultation and see what we can create together.

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