There’s one constant that connects the worlds of wine fanatics and whisky appreciators: flavour. Our relentless search and journey in flavour that connects us with like-minded people and profiles that all seek out flavour and experience.
However, to help facilitate that journey we both need one thing: oak. The humble oak tree. Quercus Alba and its friends Robur, Macrocarpa, Phellos, Acuta and more. Confused? Let’s wind it back a bit and focus on flavour again.
The history of both the wine industry and whisky industry using casks dates back thousands of years. When you think of a wine barrel today, you probably think immediately about idyllic winery imagery, slumbering oak, and careful maturation. That for the most part is correct, but the history of how it all came about is something else! Carrying goods across the wide seas via the only transportation method known, large shipping vessels, had to have something to house and carry wine, whisky, and other goods. This was of course in a time well before steel, plastic, or alloy was in use. The next logical solution was to transport in wooden casks. Wine, whisky, meat, blood, grain, and more would often sit on shipping routes accidentally ‘maturing’ for sometimes months at a time. It’s widely accepted that this maturation of wine and whisky in wooden vessels is something of an accident, albeit a happy one! Prior to this in whisky, it was only consumed mostly as a raw white spirit straight off the copper alembic still and only for therapeutic or medicinal reasons. Imagine the delight when a nice oak influence added a dimension of flavour to that spirit? Wondrous!
One of the key differences between whisky barrels and wine barrels is the level of meticulous detail that goes into the construction. Wine barrels are mostly perfect in construction, with many using additional bracing on the heads to strengthen the thinner and more delicate construction. Whisky barrels are rarely created for the sole purpose of whisky as their first use (with the exception of bourbon from America). So from a whisky mindset, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the wine trade for supplying so many wine casks that we then get to fill lovely white spirit into to mature whisky!
However, what happens when we mature whisky in an ex-wine cask? The influence of the previous fill, along with the influence and nature of what the oak type does goes a long way in creating the flavour of that whisky. Ex-Cabernet Sauvignon casks will generally impart a savoury, nutty, and sometimes tannic flavour to a whisky. Ex-Chardonnay casks will generally impart a sweet and sometimes biscuity flavour. Then of course the influence of what type of oak has been used in those ex-wine casks plays a significant factor in building the final flavour of the most organoleptically complex spirit on earth: whisky.
So why not come on a journey with us on Wednesday 26th August at 7pm AEST for a live tasting exploring whisky, wine, and the inner-relationship they have in maturing great single cask, cask strength, rare panel-selected whiskies from the SMWS? Exclusive to Vintec Club members, the whisky sampling packs will be sent out to all attendees for this virtual tasting which you enjoy with us live including a Q&A, or watch later at your leisure. Tickets go on sale soon.