Each year Inchdairnie Distillery makes available thirty casks of its InchDairnie Single Malt for sale to private individuals for their own use. This year’s casks are red wine casks from the Rioja region of Spain. The casks have come from our partner Bodegas Navajas, owned and managed by the Navajas family in the town of Navarrette, La Rioja.
The casks were made at the Martin and Vazquez cooperage in 2016 and used for the maturation of that year’s vintage which was then bottled in 2018 to celebrate the centenary of the vineyard. Some of the wine was retained in a small number of these casks for further maturation and these are the casks that we have for this year’s filling. The casks are made from two different oaks, American Oak (Quercus Alba) for the staves and French Oak (Quercus Robur) for both heads.
Most casks used for the maturation of whisky takes place in casks that have been used for the maturation of other spirits and wines first. This goes back to the practice of importing into Scotland wines and spirits in barrels. Often these barrels were made specifically for the transportation of the wines and spirits and even today cooperages in France will make a type of cask called a Transport Barrique. These casks when emptied here in Scotland, were then used to mature the new make whisky distilled in Scotland. This practice went a long way in defining the traditional flavour of Scotch Whisky as the previous use of the barrel tones down the otherwise strong wood flavours. In most recent years, the maturation of whisky has been in casks that were previously used for the maturation of bourbon. So, the use of these wine casks goes back to our industries heritage of using wine casks.
Unlike the Bourbon casks that have been heavily charred on the inside these wine casks have been toasted. The Bourbon casks are charred inside at a high temperature that leads to spontaneous combustion of the wood inside the cask. This opens the wood structure to create what looks like a crocodile skin. This high temperature also caramelises the natural sugar in the wood. This caramel flavour is absorbed into the spirit. The crocodile skin allows the spirit to go quickly into the wood to extract the flavours. The toasting of the wine casks is carried out at lower temperature and for longer periods than the charring process. This holds the wood structure together more allowing the extraction process to take longer. The two different process will yield different flavours into the spirit. The toasting will leave much of the oak lactones intact giving up coconut flavours to the spirit.
Although the casks have been used for a few years for wine, there is a great deal of maturation capacity left in these barrels because the wine is mostly water while the maturing whisky is mostly spirit. This means that the spirit soluble wood extractable are still there for the spirit to slowly extract from the wood over the next 12 years. The wine that has soaked into the wood will be drawn out from the wood helping to give the maturing whisky a fine reddish hue. The American oak will give up to the whisky some elegant sweet vanilla flavours along with coconut, fruit and honey, while the French oak will bring along some spice, dried fruits and currents.