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Monday, January 23, 2023

When Life Gives You Wine Casks, Make Scotch With It

In past reviews, I’ve discussed at length how sherry casks are “groomed” for the whisky industry.  It’s a little different when it comes to wine casks.

A solera system is used to mature sherry.  These casks are in service for decades, sometimes centuries.  The ones old enough to collect a pension don’t really add flavour, they’re more of a holding vessel.  Wine casks, on the other hand, aren’t used for hundreds of years.  A wine cask (or barrique) rarely matures its contents for more than 18 months, and is usually decommissioned by the winery after a few vintages.  Barriques are also smaller than your typical 500 litre sherry butt.  The casks used for Bordeaux wines have a capacity of 225 litres.  This is important.  The smaller the barrel, the greater the cask influence.  2nd-fill Bordeaux barriques are used to mature a portion of Port Charlotte 10.

There’s also a clear distinction between wine casks and American bourbon barrels.  US federal law requires all bourbon to be matured in charred, new oak barrels.  Wine casks are toasted, not charred.  What’s the difference?  We don’t set our bread on fire each morning, we toast it.  The inside of a charred barrel is set on fire for upwards of a minute.  Charred barrels can also make your whisky taste burnt, a flavour some drinkers occasionally confuse with smoke or peat.  A toasted barrel is only exposed to heat.  Toasted barrels generally impart more honey, vanilla, and spice notes.

Bruichladdich makes 3 styles of whisky:  Bruichladdich (unpeated), Port Charlotte (heavily peated), and Octomore (super-heavily peated).  They make whisky for the enthusiast.  Every expression is non-chill filtered, ensuring the best possible mouthfeel, and they’re all (well, mostly) 50%.  More alcohol means less water, and less water means more flavour.  Bruichladdich also never adds colour, so you always know just how much of an imprint the casks are leaving on your whisky.  You may come across a Bruichladdich that doesn’t fit your preferred flavour profile, but you’ll never drink one that isn’t well made.

Port Charlotte 10 is a little different from the other peated whiskies on Islay.  Coastal notes tend to define the region, most notably seaweed and iodine.  Port Charlotte 10 sources their peat from the mainland, so it’s more of an earthy, farmy peat.  Vanilla.  Citrus.  The wine casks don’t stand out, but do contribute a fair bit of spice.  Lovely balance with a nice, full mouthfeel.  One of the better peated whiskies on the market today.

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 ...