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Monday, November 21, 2022

Like a Virgin, Casked for the Very First Time

Almost every bottle of whisky not from America starts its journey after distillation in an ex-bourbon (usually white oak) barrel.  Bourbon must be matured in virgin (new) oak.  The reason why this is so is a subject of much debate among whiskey scholars.

One widely agreed-upon theory dates back to just after Prohibition.  The US was in the midst of the Great Depression.  For the cooperage (barrel) industry, hard times had been the norm for decades.  When the US entered the First World War in 1917, states passed laws limiting alcohol production.  A couple years later, Prohibition crippled not only the whiskey industry, but everything tied to it from bartenders to barrel makers.  The coopers union, wanting to provide their clients with some form of long-term job security, lobbied Washington to insist all whisky be matured in new oak.  Their prayers were answered in 1935.  The Federal Alcohol Administration Act required all (straight) whiskies be stored in charred new oak containers.

Virgin oak barrels can vary from lightly charred (#1) to alligator char (#4), a name given to that level because it makes the inside of the barrel look like the skin of an alligator.  Charring removes undesired compounds, and unlocks caramel, vanilla, and coconut flavours from the wood.  Most bourbons go with either a #3 or alligator char.  Virgin oak can be pretty risky when it comes to single malts.  Malted barley is far more delicate than corn, the principal grain used in the production of bourbon.  For this reason, virgin oak is mainly used to finish malts, especially young ones.  Shelter Point Ripple Rock is a single malt matured in virgin oak and ex-bourbon barrels.

Surprisingly, there’s not much oak on the nose.  It’s quite fruity and floral.  Creamy too.  The oak makes a grand entrance on the palate, giving it a nice, spicy mouthfeel.  Ripple Rock drinks a tad young, the finish is a little hot, but the nose alone is worth the price of admission in my opinion.  One of the better whiskies made on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Happy dramming,


Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years. -  Charles Perrault,  The Sleeping Beauty in ...