Why cask-finish whisky at home?
Cask-finishing is a relatively new technique in the long history of whisky making. Pioneered in the 1980’s by David Stewart at Balvenie and swiftly followed by the likes of Glenfiddich, Teeling and Glen Moray, cask finishing adds extra nuance and refinement to a matured spirit. The whisky takes on some of the flavour of what was previously in the barrel (the conditioning liquid) due to the ‘breathing’ process enabled by the wood. This makes for a completely unique end spirit depending on the chosen combinations of mature whisky, conditioning liquid and wood.
When a cask is conditioned with a liquid such as Oloroso sherry or port, chemical changes take place in the wood which then carry specific flavour characteristics to the spirit in the cask. These are more nuanced and interesting than both the finishing liquid and the whisky on their own.
For example a cask conditioned with Pedro Ximenez Sherry, does not make a whisky taste of Pedro Ximenez Sherry, but a much more complex flavour that is derived from the chemical reaction within the wood.
And instead of leaving the process to a distillery, having a finishing cask at home allows the whisky enthusiast to make these choices themselves and enjoy and share the changes of the whisky over time.
An economical way of acquiring fine whisky
The primary reason for finishing whisky at home is to create a truly unique end product. But it is also highly economical when compared to purchasing high-quality pre-finished whisky from a retailer or a distillery.
And because home finishing necessitates smaller casks (4 gallon pin casks for example are the perfect size for a typical home, compared to the standard 200L barrels typically used in distilleries), there are also added benefits. Smaller casks make the finishing process quicker as they have a greater liquid to surface ratio than larger ones. This allows the whisky to have more contact with the surface of the wood. So for example, a 20Lt cask matures four times as fast as a 200Lt barrel.
Craftsmanship and tradition
As well as holding precious and unique whiskies, a cask is an object of craftsmanship and beauty in its own right. The art of coopering is an ancient tradition that requires years of training. After many years of mastering their craft, a qualified cooper in the UK is initiated at a ‘trussing in’ ceremony. This time honoured ritual has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years and traces its roots back to the 14th century.
History and tradition underpin the crafts of whisky making and coopering. And by owning a cask at home that is fitted with a tap and presented on a wooden stand, whisky lovers are also able to serve their spirit in the most traditional and theatrical way – direct from the cask.