As you sit back sipping on a glass of whiskey, you might find yourself wondering how all those hints of vanilla and undertones of pear make their way into the bottle.
Well, many of them likely came from the oak barrel the whiskey was aged in. In fact, many distillers believe that as much as 60-70% of the final flavor of a Scotch whiskey is derived from the oak wood.
With that in mind, we want to take a moment to educate you on your whiskey woods.
Historically any type of wood could be used to make casks but now, by law, they now must be constructed of oak. Here are the three main types used in the whisky industry today along with some deliciously sipable recommendations:
Now the most widely used cask material, American Oak has only been used in the whisky industry since the end of the Second World War. At that time, a law was passed requiring that all American whiskey be matured in new wooden casks. This was done to boost the coopering (cask making) industry that had collapsed during Prohibition.
What You’ll Taste: vanilla, honey, coconut, almonds, spices, butterscotch.
Which To Try: Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Found mostly in France and Spain, it is a darker, slower growing oak than its American counterpart. The casks are often reused after first holding sherry or other fortified wines.
What You’ll Taste: sherry, dried fruits, spices, caramel, orange, fruit cake.
Which to Try: The Macallan 12-year
Also known as Mizunara oak, it has been used in the Japanese whisky industry since the 1930s. Due to its higher propensity for leakage, most Japanese whisky is now matured in either American or European oak casks before being transferred to Mizunara casks to impart the wood’s unique flavors.
What You’ll Taste: vanilla, honey, floral notes, fresh fruits, spices and wood.
Which to Try: Suntory Yamazaki