Home To Glenfiddich: Part 1

19 March 2014

Soon, we'll be releasing a brand new expression. To give you a peek behind the scenes, we sent Joel Harrison to the USA to document the journey of an American Oak cask.

A Journey Begins

by Joel Harrison

It is no secret that single malt Scotch whisky is made from just three ingredients: water, barley and yeast. This trilogy of naturally occurring elements are combined in perfect harmony to give us what is known in the Scotch whisky business as ‘new make spirit’, a clear yet surprisingly tasty younger brother to what eventually graduates, after a minimum of three years in oak casks, into ‘whisky’.

Passing the momentous date of three years is not the end for most whisky however; it will slumber long beyond that, developing colour and flavour, body and structure, complexity and balance all aided by the most crucial of things: an oak cask. 

We are all the sum of our experiences and whisky is no different. Once new make spirit is created, it must be transferred into oak casks to mature. The quality and lineage of these casks is key to ending up with high quality whisky, and casks are sourced from two main locations: Europe and America.

In Europe, large casks (made from both American and locally sourced oak) are used to mature a variety of different products, from Sherry to Port and even some wines. These casks are useful to Scotch producers, giving a wide palate of flavours but they are used in much smaller quantities for maturation than their cousins sourced from America.

American oak casks are the lifeblood for the Scotch distiller; vital in imparting key flavours such as vanilla, honey and spice into single malt whisky and crucially, allowing for long maturation where the whisky inside develops into something special. 

These casks are crafted by the most skilled of men: the cooper. A job which takes guile, physical strength and years of training to master; the vessels they make must eventually cradle precious single malt whisky, often for decades, and work in partnership with the spirit to deliver something unique, rare and of the upmost quality.

I have embarked on a journey to discover where these amazing American cask come from, how they are made and exactly the journey they take from one side of an ocean to another, to be blessed with the ultimate of jobs for any cask: to mature Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky. 

Share this journey with us on twitter @GlenfiddichSMW and instagram @GlenfiddichWhisky and follow the blogs to find out more - or read the next installment: Arriving in America