In recent years there have been an increasing number of whisky producers using unorthodox casks for maturation. A new experimental approach has seen many move away from traditional ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks and in a more innovative and creative direction.
Finishing is the process where a whisky is moved from one cask type to another more expressive cask type for a short period. This allows extra layers of flavour to be added without the second cask dominating the spirit too heavily.
The recent easing of regulations in some of the world’s biggest whisky making countries, such as Scotland and America, has led to some wonderful new products hitting the market. Producers are now thinking outside the box as a variety of beer, wine and spirit casks have become available.
Time to open your mind? Here, we pick eight of the tastiest, best, and quirkiest examples out there.
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Maple Rye
When the Catoctin Creek distillery was founded in 2009 it was the first to open in Loudon County, Virginia since the Prohibition era. They are part of an American craft distilling movement bringing rye whiskey back to prominence and their name is taken from the local Kittocton people.
Roundstone Rye is released in small batches and different guises. One of the more unorthodox bottlings featured part-maturation in ex-maple syrup barrels. It proved so popular that it is now released once a year.
Imagine robust cereals and warming spices alongside intense sugary sweetness and hints of caramel and toffee. So decadent.
DS Tayman Linkwood 12 Years Old
Wine casks, particularly those used to mature red or fortified styles, have become increasingly popular in the last few years. However, what remains rare is the use of Kosher wine casks. This is what independent bottler DS Tayman are finishing their range of Scotch single cask single malts in.
The barrels are sourced from Tulip, a Kosher winery in northern Israel, and have previously held Syrah wine. This underrated Speysider from the Linkwood distillery has been finished in such a cask and is exquisite.
Expect notes of red apple, brown sugar and milk chocolate mingling with stewed fruits and orange zest. Such a delicious whisky. And it’s Kosher.
Fettercairn Warehouse 14
When the Scotch Whisky Association relaxed their rules several years ago, one of the first new cask types to appear on the Scotch market were ex-beer casks. There have been a few excellent examples since, with ex-stout barrels proving especially popular. Now the east Highland distillery of Fettercairn have ramped it up a bit with this new release.
Warehouse 14 is the fifth and final bottling in the brand’s cult Warehouse Collection. It features not one, not two, but three different ex-beer cask finishes: pale ale, dark ale and stout.
Vanilla and chocolate aromas on the nose develop into rich tropical fruits, cocoa, crème caramel and baking spice on the palate. Warming and rich.
Lark Chinotto Cask
The Lark distillery in Tasmania was one of the pioneers of the Australian whisky scene in the 1990s. In fact, Bill Lark was the first person to take out a distilling licence in the state for over 150 years. Now the award-winning distillery and range of single malt whiskies have celebrated their 30th anniversary.
Arguably the quirkiest entry on this list is the Lark Chinotto Cask. Chinotto is a cola-like soda drink made from chinotto, a type of bittersweet citrus fruit. Lark have seasoned casks with their Coal Valley chinotto and then filled them with lightly peated single malt.
The result will blow your mind. Expect notes of bitter orange, myrtle, and earthy spices.
The innovative Swedish distillery of Mackmyra have been one of the true advocates of the weird and wonderful cask over the last 20 years. From early in their history, they were experimenting with quirky barrel and wood types to enhance their expressive spirit. And they show no signs of slowing down.
Björksav is one such whisky, released as part of Mackmyra’s Seasonal Range a couple of years ago. Several different casks were married together, but the main player was ex-birch sap wine barrels sourced from Swedish artisanal winery Grythyttan Vin.
The result is a bright and vibrant whisky with notes of green apple, golden syrup, pepper and herbal freshness.
The Smokehead single malt range has been pushing boundaries for a while now and Terminado is the latest limited edition to do so. Previous expressions of the Islay single malt have explored differing cask types, such as ex-rum and ex-stout beer barrels, but this takes it a step further with a finishing period in ex-tequila casks from Jalisco in Mexico.
The mix of classic medicinal Islay peat smoke and herbaceous notes from the tequila cask create a heady mix. Sweet marshmallow and meringue characteristics are joined by confected and caramelised tropical fruit notes. These are complemented perfectly with acrid and earthy smoke that licks around everything and lingers for ages.
Starward Ginger Beer Cask
The Starward distillery in Melbourne was at the forefront of kickstarting the now-vibrant Australian whisky scene. Part of their ethos was to look outside of the traditions of whisky making and make their products accessible to all. From this grew their experimental Projects Series, which has featured some truly cult expressions.
One such whisky is the Ginger Beer Cask. Initially matured in ex-red wine and ex-Apera casks (Apera is an Australian fortified wine like sherry), the spirit is transferred to barrels that previously held Starward’s own-brewed ginger beer.
The intense result gives plenty of ginger cake and gingerbread vibes supported by vanilla, cocoa and a pinch of baking spice.
Stauning El Clásico
Much like their fellow Scandinavians at Mackmyra, Stauning have been gaining a name for good whisky and interesting cask maturation. Their innovative Research Series has seen some funky expressions to date and El Clásico is one of the best. The combination of rye whisky with Spanish white vermouth casks is delicious.
The rye used to make the whisky is grown within a stone’s throw of the distillery, located on the west coast of Denmark. The earthy and peppery nature of the spirit is enhanced wonderfully with the fresh and vibrant notes from the ex-vermouth casks.
Expect bittersweet cereals and delicate oak with vanilla, honey, and a hint of candied lime.