When you are enjoying your favourite whiskey what is the first thing that comes to mind? Have you ever thought about the importance of wood in the flavours of your whisky?
Normally, wood is the last thing anyone will think about when enjoying its whisky. However, it is impossible to overstate its importance in the production and taste of this incredible spirit. CEO and founder of Cotswalds Distillers, Dan Szor says that “wood is known for its ability to ‘take out the bad’ through evaporation”, “and ‘put in the good’ through extraction of tannins and wood sugars”. He also estimates that wood is responsible for about 75 percent of the taste of a finished whiskey.
Notes through wood
If a certain whisky has not spent enough time in a barrel, it will most probably be too sharp, presenting off-notes on the nose and the palate. Wood will then affect its notes and overall taste depending on what is used. “There is also the flavour imparted by previously help liquids”, like bourbon or sherry, according to Szor.
Stuart Macpherson, is the “Master of Wood” from The Macallan. He chooses woods throughout the sherry season in Jerez, Spain all the way to the aging process in Scotland. He understands the depth in which wood will affect the overall taste of its collection. This is why The Macallan offers a unique range of whiskeys that are so appreciated around the world.
According to Shane Armstrong from Westland Distillery, “wood is one of just four raw ingredients in single malt whiskey, the others being barley, yeast and water”.
Finding the right wood
Once the distillers find the right wood, it is treated with incredible care in order to bring its best notes. Macpherson says however, that “the toasting temperatures is slightly more of a priority”. This will allow the development of sweet, warm and woodsy notes. The heat will break down chemical compounds within the wood, releasing sugars that will provide incredible flavours.
Oak is the most common wood used not just in Scotch whisky and American bourbon, but also in the wine industry. Shane believes that “because of its primary role, aging in oak is often seen as the one true bellwether of quality”.
The most common types of oak that you will find in your whiskeys are:
- Quercas Alba (White American Oak)
- Quercas Petraee (Sessile European Oak)
- Quercas Robur (Penduncate European Oak)
- Quercas Mongolica (Japanese Mizura Oak)
- Quercas Garryana (Garry American Oak)
Stay tunned for the next articles, as we uncover the unique flavours that each oak will offer to the whiskeys.