The type of barrel in which the whisky is stored influences its taste enormously and makes the art of cooperage an integral part of the whole whisky-making process.
From the very first day, we have concentrated on careful selection of woods and building long-term partnerships with Europe’s top wine estates. This is the reason why Langatun whisky has a rich flavour and attractive colour.
Despite massive progress with innovative robotic technology, the process of coopering a barrel still requires significant human skill. It normally begins with a stock of oak. There is a distinction between American and French oak.
American white oak is the wood most frequently used to make barrel staves – long sections of wood that make up the main part of the body. Oak is mainly used because the wood is resistant to decay and other types of deformation.
The most coveted barrels are sherry casks. There are also port casks, red wine barrels (such as Pinot Noir, Rioja, Burgundy, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, etc.) and white wine (Sauternes, Chardonnay, etc.).
The choice of cask is unlimited. One important point to consider when choosing is that the cask releases an outstanding flavour from the liquid it contained previously. Depending on their condition, all these barrels are completely disassembled, repaired and reconstructed into new, refreshed barrels.
The cask’s interior
The cask loses approximately 2% of its contents and alcohol volume per year during maturation. As the casks are used several times during their lifetimes, this is accounted for by what is known as cask management.
Casks for cask finishes
The time in cask is only moderately important; the choice of cask is much more so. Ninety percent of the flavour that comes from the cask has transferred to the whisky after about six years. This is followed by the consolidation phase, caused by the steady loss of the angel’s share. The liquid decreases and the concentration of flavours increases. If you have good casks the flavour will soon be outstanding, so you don’t have to give the angels their share for very long.
As a result of the constant climatic changes caused by the seasons, cold and heat cause the whisky to circulate slowly around the cask, leaching the flavour of the previous contents out of the wood in the process.
Nowadays many distillers practise what is known as ‘finishing’, to give the single malt additional flavour. Finishing is a final maturation, in which the whisky that has been in, say, a bourbon barrel for many years, is transferred to a different barrel for six to 18 months.
Cask flavours (flavour from the cask is around 60%)
The dominant notes in a young whisky are citrus and vanilla. If the whisky matures for longer – 20 years or more – wonderful, exotic fruit notes emerge.
Sherry barrel and Port wine barrel
Mocha, toffee, gingerbread, Christmas biscuits, roasted nuts and stewed fruit. The longer the whisky matures in the cask, the more distinctive the flavours. With greater age – 20 years or more – notes of dried fruit emerge, especially dried plums. However, maturation for too long can make the whisky bitter and musty.
Red wine barrel
Red wine barrels vary greatly in flavour. The flavour can be very delicate to lush and rich, depending on the grape variety or production method used. But whatever you can sense, the flavours are always ‘grape’.
White wine barrel
Chardonnay or Sauternes barrels are mostly used because they have a nice, rich flavour. Whiskies finished in white wine casks are mostly rather light and delicately structured and have extra fruit aromas.