Wine enthusiasts find it very interesting how whiskey barrels made of oak and the whiskey itself play roles in the production process of whiskey. Because the new spirit of whiskey would gain its character and color from the wood where it is stored, the quality of the whiskey barrels is then well monitored.
Variety of spirits like oloroso, fino or amontillado sherries, bourbon and oak are matured also in some of these casks.
So that there is a continuity of the whiskey and attainment of a certain character of the spirit, the master blender has to make a careful selection of type of whiskey to be used for maturation.
It is interesting to note that only after a minimum of threes years of maturity that the new spirit of scotch whiskey is legally named. Most scotch whiskey though are matured very much longer in practice, and this could run from five to fifteen, twenty, twenty five and even longer number of years.
The scotch whiskey is known for its smooth and golden character, and this goes back to the long period of Scotland’s clean and cool air that goes into the porous oak wood material of the casks that interacts with the spirit content.
It is said that a proportion of the whiskey is lost to the heavens and is termed as the “angel’s share”, since it evaporates annually.
Many would frequently ask and are curious to know why the wood oak is the most used by whiskey makers in the production of whiskey barrels. The immediate reasons are that oak wood has a unique physical and chemical nature, has physical strength because of its wide radial rays that when shaped as barrels would give strength, and it is also considered as pure wood with resin canals that allow strong flavors to pass onto as whiskey is being matured.
The result of a pleasant tasting oak lactones happen also during the seasoning and heating treatments of the spirit which the transformation process can only happen in oak wood.
In using oak wood for whiskey barrels, it is claimed that three effects are impacted on the whiskey.
The number one effect of an oak whiskey barrel is it acts as an additive, meaning the aroma and taste of the spirit are enhanced from the desirable elements present in the wood. Examples of these effective additives are vanillin, oak lactone, toastiness, wood sugars and color.
The oak properties would act as an agent that eliminates elements that are undesirable in making the new spirit, like sulphur compounds and immaturity.