Casks and Maturation – your questions answered

Exploring inside our warehouses is one of the high points of a tour of the distillery, and every day visitors ask a myriad of question about how we choose our casks and how it affects the maturation of our whisky.  Here are some of your questions answered:

Q:  How much of our whisky is matured in bourbon casks and how much in sherry casks?
A:  Approximately 68% of Wolfburn’s spirit is matured in bourbon barrels, 25% in sherry butts (Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez), and 7% in an eclectic mix of other casks including Amontillado, Madeira, rum and port.

Q:  Where do our bourbon casks originate from?
A:  Sources vary: over the years we’ve had casks from distilleries including Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace and Jim Beam.

Q:  And where do the sherry casks hail from?
A:   Sources vary but they all begin life at bodegas in Jerez, including Baco, Peréz, Miguel and Byass.

Q:  Are Wolfburn’s casks first or second fill?
A:  First we should clarify the terminology: a first-fill cask is one that’s being used to make scotch whisky for the first time. So even though it’s previously been used for, say, bourbon maturation, it’s referred to as a first-fill in Scotland. When the contents are emptied (or vatted, to use the proper term) and the cask is refilled, it then becomes a second fill.  At Wolfburn we use a combination of first and second fill casks.  Virtually none are filled for a third time though.

Q:  Does long maturation always produce better whisky?
A:  That’s a tricky one. It’s true that whisky inside a cask matures over time, so logically the longer it waits the better it becomes. But the angels will take their share of course, and once the level inside drops too much the whisky can become over-wooded and unpleasant on the palate. Whisky quality is affected by a combination of factors, including cask type, size, temperature inside the warehouse, humidity – and of course age.

Q:  Do you sample the casks as they mature?
A:  Yes. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it…

The final word must go to Iain: “There are no hard and fast rules but we try to stick to our core strategy, which is to make the best possible spirit and put it into the best possible casks. Old Father Time takes care of the rest.”