Casks are an integral step in the making of whisky and spirits alike.
Whether a spirit is matured for 6 months or 18 years, casks take hold of a pertinent stage in the life of a spirit.
My name is Jonathan Lax, I am originally from Montreal, QC (Canada). Over the past 10 years I have worked in the food & beverage industry concurrently in Montreal and New York City. My passion for spirits grew exponentially during these past years, with an ever growing affection for spirits but an admiration for whisk(e)y. This past year I started the first ever worldwide Spirits MBA at the INSEEC wine & spirits institute based in Bordeaux, France and London, UK. For my degree thesis I have chosen to delve into the mysteries, and problems arising from casks/barrels.
Putting spirits in casks for maturation is not a new invention, but that one that stems back hundreds of years when the tall mast ships ruled the high seas, delivering goods from all corners of the world. Casks were a convenient mode of transporting goods. It was discovered something magical happened when a rum from the Caribbean arrived in the UK or when a whisky was shipped from Scotland to a British Empire station around the world. When they arrived they had taken on a new flavour profile that was desirable, and flavourful to the pallet. Once a spirit had been aged in a cask, the attributes the wood influenced on the spirit made it more pleasing to drink. It was at this point that the love affair between spirits and casks started.
The Scotch whisky industry has relied on casks for hundreds of years, starting first with whatever casks were available in the 19th century to post WW2 relying predominantly on American Bourbon casks to age there delicious gift to the world. Today’s standard are refill bourbon casks for majority of maturation, along with refill sherry casks and then finishing traditionally in refill sherry or port casks. (Refill means casks previously used by another spirit) This is because a virgin casks gives a lot of wood tannins to the spirit, which can be desirable for an American whiskey but not for a Scottish whisky. A new trend, yet also a traditional trend, is to finish whiskys in refill wine casks, i.e. sauternes, grand crus Bordeaux, which express another sweet, fruity profile. Needless to say the character the casks give is vastly mistaken, and provides a full pantone range of characters.
My participation in the blog will be to give a great historical background of cask usage and the modern touch of using various refill casks. I will deliver technical information on the industry as to the difference between an American oak vs. European oak cask, and on the varied levels of ‘toasting’ (the burning of the oak barrels before a spirit is put in to mature to caramelise the wood sugars). There is a scarcity problem in America with casks due to the mass increase in production, with barrel aged beers being among some of the issues that are affecting the flow of available casks.
I hope to deliver pertinent information for basic to experienced spirits enthusiast and to industry professionals. I look forward to replying to any questions or enquiries and creating a working platform for all to participate.
Cheers, Jon Lax