Despite being direct competitors to each other, the romance between Scotch and Bourbon has always been a buzz.
To aid the maturation of Scotch whisky, tonnes of bourbon barrels sail into the UK every year. One of the things that glamours up whisky, is it’s contact with wood. In Scotland, it cannot be labeled as “whisky” until it has aged for three years and a day. It is the barrels in which the spirits are aged that have the most dramatic effect on the finished product’s color and taste.
By law, the American barrels can only serve once to the bourbons, but they still have loads of delectable flavour to part with. The best use of it was made by the Scots to flair up their dram.
The onset of this citation did not consider the flavours at first. It goes deep down to the archives.A page of history remains to be worth a pound of logic.
• The History
~ Within Europe
For the better parts of the 16th through 19th centuries, the United Kingdom was a naval powerhouse. Undoubtedly, the large wooden ships constantly being built generated great strain on the oak forests of the island.
The fortified wines, which could travel long like Sherry, Port and Madeira were particularly popular in Britain. They were shipped from Siberia in oak casks, the wines were bottled at the port of entry (Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Bristol, Liverpool) and It didn’t take long for distillers to realize that the original cask contents, the dark, sweet, fortified wines could beneficially mellow maturing whisky and help younger spirits seem better aged. These casks were now being abundantly used by the prudent distillers.
Reused casks would pass on their own unique flavor acquired from the first fill, and the trend of reusing barrels quickly took off.
~ The American Sail
As the prohibition ended in America, the whiskey makers could only use a barrell once for their product to be legally stated as American whiskey. Being cheap and readily available they were eagerly snapped up by insatiable Scottish distillers. Moreover , the popularity of Port and Sherry had decreased in the U.K, and a cheaper substitute was coming in. American oak had started taking over the malty saga in europe. Cost efficiency of the Bourbon barrels played a major role and the 20th century bowed down to the American Oak.
~ The Spanish Export of Sherry Regulations
In the year 1981, Spanish export regulations for Sherry changed and the use of transport casks was outlawed. Sherry now had to be bottled in the home county itself. The supply of sherry casks had dried up and were being imported at very high costs, this prompted the Scotch whisky producers to source their cask from North America, taking advantage of the “Use Once” United States Bourbon policy law. This gave a larger edge to the American cask over Sherry cask.
It was in the early 1990’s when people started noticing a finer and smoother taste of their favorite dram, which was now being matured in the Bourbon barrels.
American Oak vs European Oak
The major difference between European and American oak is the grain. American oak has a very wide grain, which makes way for a lot of flavour and focuses more on the sweeter vanilla, coconut, and fresh fruit spectrum. European oak is much tighter grained, which makes it darker and gives more spicy flavours, with bitter tannins, dried fruit and caramelised citrus notes.
Today, around 97% of all Scotch whisky is maturing in American oak.
• The Casks Romance with your Dram
- The high CORN content in the Bourbon gives the successor a sweeter character. This would otherwise not be possible with a high or 100% barley content, that most Scotch distilleries use.
2. The RYE content (even if minimal) inside the Bourbon lays back some notes of spiciness in the casks and helps in transferring some body to the spirit ageing next.
3. The American white oak is a very mellow wood that contains only a few tannins. This results in a smoother and milder taste of the whisky.
4. The TOASTING of the barrel is a heat treatment process , wood sugars inside the oak are heated up to 150°C and caramelized. Some of these wood sugars escape into the liquid matured afterwards.
5. CHARRING follows toasting. When the cask is charred it forms a layer of charcoal within. After the whisky enters the layer of charcoal it allures smoothness. The charred cask extracts the tangy components from the whisky and makes it more finesse. Sherry and port casks are also toasted but only seldom charred. Americans attach much more importance to ‘mild and mellow’ whiskey which eventually helps the Scottish dram in a much far-reaching way.
6. All the COLOUR comes from the barrel. The gentle colour of Scotch is acquired from the Bourbon casks. Bourbon is the first product , hence comes out to be much darker, some of the colour compounds remain inside the cask and are transferred to the successive rester. This eventually helps Scotch maintain a mild and a gentle tone.
Whisky penetrates the wood fibers, breaks down compounds like wood sugars, and then pulls them out of the wood into the whiskey.
If the nineteenth century was Europe’s era of oak, then the twentieth century has belonged to America. The history, laws and flavors of bourbon have been mutually advantageous for both Scotch and bourbon distillers, and continue to aid a positive relationship between two of the world’s most distinguished spirit styles.
Afterall, “Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.” ~ Haruki Murakami