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Scotchwhisky.com whisky finishes masterclass at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show London

A Lesson in Whisky Finishes with Scotchwhisky.com

Recently we attended The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in London and a fantastic whisky finishes masterclass by Scotchwhisky.com editor, Becky Paskin.

We were delighted to see a celebration of the care and attention that must go into selecting a finish for a Scotch whisky, not least because at R&B Distillers that’s exactly what we do with our Raasay While We Wait single malt and Borders highland single grain, so we know first-hand that achieving the perfect finish is much more than luck.

The masterclass featured firstly a 12yo Balvenie as a control dram with no finish, followed by Tomatin 18yo finished in Oloroso Sherry casks, Glenmorangie Milsean finished in red wine casks, Glenfiddich IPA Experiment finished in – you guessed it – IPA barrels, and an unnamed cask sample finished (somewhat controversially) in Cider casks.

The Finishes

Unsurprisingly, we were particularly interested in the Tomatin and Glenmorangie for their similarities to our own finishes (Oloroso sherry and red wine) but make no mistake using the same type of finishing casks still produces very different whiskies. This is because there is a whole host of elements that lend themselves to the final profile such as the maturation of the whisky before finishing, the water used to distil and reduce, length of finish, and of course the flavour intended by the distillery.

Tomatin 18yo vs Borders (Oloroso Sherry)

The distinction of Oloroso sherry is important as it offers a unique flavour and would lend a different influence to a whisky than a standard sherry cask. Tomatin and Borders were both finished in Oloroso sherry casks but are quite different whiskies. Tomatin is 12 years old and finished for much longer than our own Borders, which as a young whisky was finished for just 4 weeks. Because Borders is much younger it draws more quickly from the sherry casks and as we monitored the finishing process we decided it was ready after a short because the influence was so significant, whereas the Tomatin as an older whisky took longer to draw from the sherry casks.

Glenmorangie Milsean vs Raasay While We Wait (Red Wine)

The Glenfiddich Milsean doesn’t state what type of red wine casks it was finished in so we can’t make a direct comparison to our Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon casks for Raasay While We Wait. The Milsean has significance in the finishing category because it was the flag ship for exploring which casks could and could not be used to finish a Scotch whisky according to SWA (Scotch Whisky Association). The rule stands that as long as it can be proven that Scotch has traditionally been finished in a certain cask then it can be used today. Glenmorangie did the research to show that red wine casks were once used, so we’re grateful for their hard work to open up this section of the practice. With the Milsean the intention was a lighter influence from the red wine than our Raasay While We Wait, which is intended to balance the peat with the fruity wine notes. So, the wine flavours in Milsean are very subtle but they’re certainly there.

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment

Part of Glenfiddich’s new Experimental Series, the IPA finish is rather unusual. It results in a beautifully light whisky where the IPA is not overpowering – as Becky reiterated in the masterclass – finishing should just “kiss the whisky.” The IPA in this case was specifically brewed for Glenfiddich. A premiumly aesthetic bottle too, this was a favourite of the day for many.

The Mystery Cider Cask

You might already be wondering why the cider cask finish was controversial. Surely, if a beer finish is allowed then cider would pass as well? Well that’s what the unnamed distillery experimenting with this finish (currently only available as bottle-your-own at the distillery) are trying to discover by doing their own research as Glenmorangie once did into whether cider casks have been used in the past. Evidentially beer casks are recorded along the way but they haven’t found a cider cask – yet. This finish was a little stronger than the others but that’s partly due to it being a cask strength sample.

World Whisky Finishes

Then last week Woodford Reserve released its Brandy cask finished Bourbon. The interesting point here is that they apparently have gone a long way to remind people that ‘technically’ this is now not a bourbon as finishing casks are not the regulation virgin oak that Bourbon must be matured in, instead they’re calling it – technically – a ‘finished whiskey’. Either way, it’s great to see more experimental finishes emerging and we’d love to try it.

The R&B Finishing Philosophy

Becky opened her masterclass with the declaration that finishing is a science. We know from experience that this is true – the process is much more than simply choosing the cask. This is one of the ways we believe we can make young whisky taste incredible, and put as much care and attention in handcrafting a single grain whisky as a single malt and a blend.