On my recent trip to Norway, I was graciously hosted by our importer, a new friend of mine, Jon Bertelsen.
Jon has an absolutely astounding knowledge for beverages, and an unbelievable palate. A true Whisky adventurer! During one of out many conversations regarding spirits and our industry, Jon passed on an amazing piece of knowledge which so succinctly made sense.
Whilst on one of his many trips to France to sample Cognac, he had sparked up a conversation about oak and it’s significance in maturing spirits. He was told about the difference between using new oak, and old oak and in particular the effect they have on the final product. With an amazing cognac flight before us, we investigated the claims.
This is extremely relevant in the Whisky industry, and can give us an insight into how old a cask has been and whether it was re-racked.
As Whisky is put into a fresh cask, vanillin from the toasting or charting processes give an immediate hit of vanilla sweetness. As the cask mellows the tannin drawn from the wood and other flavours oxidise to leave a distinct aroma of almonds. (Benzaldehyde) This is the interactive stage of maturation people talk about. This can only be achieved over time through oxidation.
So if you pick up an old Whisky and a distinct aroma of almonds hits the nose, then there is a good chance the Whisky has mellowed in one cask it’s whole life. Expect these aromas to be accompanied by floral aromas and delicate top notes caused by the tannins creating acetals. If however there are dominant notes of vanilla, with almonds behind, assume the cask was re-racked to add some spiciness and youth. If there is no vanilla, then you may be drinking something from a very old cask indeed. If there is neither vanilla nor almonds, then unfortunately your cask is knackered and has given very little to your final spirit.
|Tannin can be beautiful…|
There is no rule regarding which of these flavour profiles is better, but it’s a really nice way to gather insight into your favourite glass of older Whisky!
Let me know what you think.