What casks are exciting whisky makers - including white port and orange wine

They’re one of the main components of making whisky, but what casks or cask finishes should we be looking out for?

Published 17th May 2024
Updated 17 th May 2024

To legally call a whisky Scotch whisky, you need to age your spirit in oak casks, for a minimum of three years, in Scotland.

While the majority of whisky is matured in either American oak or European oak, a relaxation of the rules from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in 2019 meant more flexibility for whisky makers, who were then free to use a wider variety of casks for maturation.

Since then we’ve seen casks such as port, red wine, tequila and Pomona casks. But what types of casks are whisky makers looking to create the next batch of exciting whiskies?

From white port to tequila, here are some of their thoughts.

Billy Walker, owner and whisky maker at the GlenAllachie said: “I think different virgin oak wood casks.

"We’re looking at some Colombian casks which are quite difficult to get into the country as you can imagine. We’re also looking at Mongolian oak as I think this might be similar to Japanese Mizunara casks given the location.”

John Campbell, Production Director – Lochlea Distillery said: “There are a couple of exciting avenues coming to the fore in maturation. I would say orange wine casks are an area that could work well with Scotch Whisky.

"There also seems to be a lot of different and very specific oak varieties cultivated from countries all over the world that will be getting used and experimented with over the next couple of years.”

whisky casks
Pictured is Billy Walker with the casks at Glenallachie. Picture Simon Price/Firstpix

Sebastian Bunford-Jones from the Glasgow Distillery said: “At The Glasgow Distillery we’re running a large array of cask trials across our three spirit production styles: non-peated double distilled, non-peated triple distilled, and peated double distilled single malts.

"We’ve filled a range of new and exciting cask types including recently white port casks which we are especially excited about. We have recently filled a new batch of tequila casks following superb feedback from our recent tequila cask finish releases.

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"One of the casks that we enjoy the most is Tokaji – a Hungarian dessert wine that provides fantastic tropical fruit and honeyed notes into the whiskies; having used Tokaji across our whisky portfolio we continue to experiment with this brilliant cask.”

Graham Omand, the Lagg Distillery Manager said: “ We have invested in lots of different cask types to mature our Lagg Single Malt, for example Cote Rotie casks, Calvados casks and Tokaji casks.”

Calum Rae, Distillery Manager at Holyrood Distillery added: “With the fairly recent changes to Scotch Whisky regulations there are more casks available to use than ever before.

"We have started to see the use of Mezcal and Tequila casks as well as Calvados in Scotch whisky and I look forward to the industry embracing new cask styles such as cachaca, shochu and Baijiu.

"However, these come with some added risk as there isn't a lot of data in terms of how these spirit styles fit with the incredibly versatile flavours of Scotch whisky and how they will be received by the wider consumer.

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“This is the exciting part though, as it can allow some really pioneering whisky creation, something I am a huge fan of!”

Iain Forteath, Master Blender at Angus Dundee Distillers, said: “Creating complex, quality expressions with different cask finishes can help expand the palates of even the most seasoned connoisseurs, while also offering an entry point for those new to the category.

“Having experimented with everything from Caribbean rum casks to Pedro Ximénez sherry quarters, we’ve found a particular curiosity around White Port finishes.

"The fresh fruity and floral profile that stem from the Portuguese White Port barriques has driven a particular demand for this style, especially during the summer months. Tawny Ports are also gaining in popularity thanks to the sweet, sticky indulgent flavours they create.”

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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