A lexicon of terms from the world of whisky.
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Another important factor in the overall flavour of malt whisky is the charring inside of casks prior to their first use. This releases quantities of vanilla and related flavours into both their first and second fillings and helps to remove off-notes. New oak imparts a dominant woody flavour, but is not desirable in Scotch whisky. So, second-hand casks are always used; those which formerly held bourbon or sherry. Casks are selected on their ability to produce various maturation mechanisms. There are three main types of mechanism – subtractive, additive and interactive – these are known as cask activities.
Subtractive removes immature elements and off notes from new make spirits like sulphur compounds. Additive adds wood-derived flavours from the cask like vanillin and Interactive converts spirit and extractive wood elements to produce mature character.
The biggest type of cask allowed in the Scotch whisky industry made from American oak. This type of cask is not often used for maturation in Scotland and was used traditionally in the American whiskey industry. However, the large size make them useful for marrying different whiskies together for the production blends to round the flavour before bottling.
A short, fat and dumpy cask with a very wide diameter and made from very thick staves of European oak. This type of cask is used in the Madeira wine industry and is occasionally used in the whisky industry to finish a whisky.
Also made from thick staves of European oak and the casks are tall, thin with a long narrow shape. This type of cask is used in the Port wine industry and is occasionally used in the whisky industry to finish a whisky.
Butts are commonly known as Sherry Butts but how they found the way into the whisky industry is a longer story. Before 1981 Sherry Butts were mainly used as a container to transport the Sherry around the world in wood before the Spanish export regulations for Sherry changed this procedure. After 1981 it was no longer allowed to transport Sherry in casks. Before that change the Sherry was often only for a short time in the casks before the casks were emptied and reused. This short time, often just a few months, was enough for the cask to get a lot of the flavour into the wood and whisky was traditionally the secondary occupant for those casks. After 1981 the availability of Sherry casks for Scottish distilleries was severely impacted due to the new regulations and the general downturn of popularity for Sherry. The result was a huge increase in price and a new business for Sherry bodegas to produce Sherry casks especially for the Whisky industry.
A Butt is a tall, narrow cask traditionally made from thick staves of European oak but nowadays the use of American oak is more common for several reasons like better and cheaper availability, easier handling and flavour.
There are now different types of Butts.
First Fill European Oak Butts
First fill refers to the first time the cask has been used for Single Malt Scotch Whisky. The Butt will have been used previously before, by the Sherry industry in Spain.
Refill European Oak Butts
Refill refers to the process of reusing the cask after its use as a “first fill”. This can be done a number of times until it is deemed exhausted and in need of rejuvenation.
Rejuvenated European Oak Butts
The process of rejuvenation is where we strip out the inside of the cask to reveal a new layer of wood. The new wood surface is then charred or toasted before the cask is filled again.
There are two different types of puncheon cask and the information of the correct capacity varies from source to source. The most common types are “machine puncheon” and “sherry shaped puncheon”.
The machine puncheon is made of thick American oak staves and the sherry shaped puncheon of thinner European oak staves. Both of them are used in the rum and sherry industry and are sometimes used to finish whisky.
Widely used throughout the wine (225 litres) and cognac (300 litres) industry and are usually used for finishing purposes in the whisky industry.
American Standard Barrels (ASB) get broken down into staves and then reassembled with new ends to produce the slightly larger Hogsheads. This type of cask is one of the most common types of cask used for maturing whisky in Scotland.
First Fill American Oak Hogsheads
First fill refers to the first time the cask has been used for Single Malt Scotch Whisky. It may have been used previously for Bourbon then possibly for Scotch Grain Whisky before being used for Single Malt.
Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Refill refers to the process of reusing the cask after its use as a “first fill“. These casks have already given much of their aroma compounds to earlier fillings of spirit and only a small amount now contribute to the final whisky flavour. Whiskies mature very slowly in these casks, allowing the very essence of the distillery character to be revealed. They tend to be light, delicate and with the aroma of the original spirit. This can be done a number of times until it is deemed exhausted and in need of rejuvenation.
Rejuvenated American Oak Hogsheads
Refill casks are rejuvenated by scraping the interior to remove the old surface, then freshly charred or toasted to produce the new active surface. This quickly takes out any immaturity in the spirit, particularly the sulphur compounds. It also breaks down the cask wood to give vanilla sweetness and other compounds which react to produce extra fruitiness. Rejuvenation lasts for only one filling, after which the casks go back to being refills.
Made of American white oak the ASB is the most common type of cask and is usually used in the American whiskey industry. Because they can be only used once in the US they get sold to other producers of rum and whisky. To make shipping easier and to reduce costs they often get broken down into staves and reassembled in Scotland as hogsheads.
More common in the beer industry but in rare occasions also in the whisky industry.
This cask is a quarter of an ASB and is used to give whisky flavour quickly because of the ratio of spirit volume to cask surface. The disadvantage of such small casks is the higher evaporation loss.