Sherry cask whiskey (Pt1)...

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For years, sherry was the preserve of many grandmothers at Christmas, taken in a specific sherry glass and held with the pinky finger out. From Crofts Original Cream and Harvey’s Bristol Cream, sherry became an outdated fusty drink.

However, the whisky industry has been using sherry barrels to mature whisky for some time. Although predominantly used in Scotland, the idea of maturing whisky in sherry casks has spread throughout whiskey-producing countries.

In the US, Bardstown has Copper & Kings, a 12 Indiana bourbon finished in Oloroso casks. Rabbit Hole Distillery created Dareringer, a Kentucky Straight Bourbon finished in Pedro Ximenez casks.

So why sherry?

The flavor is a significant factor in choosing a sherry cask. With various types of sherry giving different flavor notes, the range of expressions that could be available is almost limitless.

Hailing from the "Sherry Triangle," formed by three points in the Andalusian region in Spain—Jerez de la Frontera is the inland point, with Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda as the coastal points—this area of land sits upon what was once a sea bed, meaning its soils will be full of nutrients from the marine life that once moved around in the seas covering it.

While sherry is surrounded by a lot of technical terminology, this specific blog will focus on the flavors of the various sherry types available.

Most sherry wine is made from Palamino grapes, with Muscatel Bianco and Pedro Ximinez (PX) making up the remainder.

With seven sherry types sitting across three main categories, a broad spectrum of flavor profiles is available.

The three sherry categories:

Dry (Generosos): these include Fino, Amontillado, Manzanilla, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso, all produced from Palomino grapes.

Naturally Sweet wines (Dulces Naturales) are Moscatel, made from Moscatel grapes, and Pedro Ximenez, made from PX grapes.

Blended wines (Generosos de Licor) are made from a base of dry wines and sweetened with naturally sweet wines or concentrated grape 'must'. They can be further divided into three types: Pale cream, medium, and cream.

A closer look at each sherry wine will reveal the flavors that can be added to whiskey fully or partially matured in sherry casks.

Fino: Pale in color and possessing a yeasty saline flavor, fino also has savory herbal notes with some almondy touches. It pairs well with mild cheeses, briny olives, and fish.

Amontillado: This sherry wine can have a wide range of flavors dependent on its maturation style and time maturing. With a slightly darker color than fino, you may find tones of tobacco, nuttiness, herbs, and oak. It pairs well with delicatessen-style meats, medium-strength cheeses, and some pates. It is a great addition to grazing plates.

Manzanilla: Similar to fino, the main difference being the location of production, this dry white-style sherry wine offers similar saline flavor profiles, with an underlying chamomile aroma. Like fino, it pairs well with fish, olives, and other savory, light, sea-based meals, like sushi.

Palo cortado is one of the rarer sherries. It offers a wide range of flavor notes, from tobacco and orange, like the amontillado, to raisins and sultanas, red fruits, and nuts, like that of Oloroso. With such a range of tasting notes, this is a versatile sherry for food pairings.

Oloroso: Whiskey producers highly prize the casks used for maturing this sherry. It is a slightly darker liquid with aromas of walnuts, leather, dried fruit, a toastiness, and a little meatiness. It is easily paired with mature cheeses and red meats.

Moscatel: this sherry has two styles, Pasas and Dorado. Pasas is made from overripe grapes dried in the sun, giving them a raisin-y feel. Slightly darker and sweeter than some sherries, these are closer to PX in color. The grapes used for Dorado are fresher than that of Pasas and have a floral nose. The floral aromas on these sherries are joined by light, sweet, honeyed, fruity notes that pair wonderfully with pastries and light desserts.

Pedro Ximenez: With flavors akin to sweet, dried figs, dates, dried fruit, and chocolate, along with coffee and licorice, the sweetness of PX is balanced by its savory notes. Younger, sweeter PX sherries are regularly poured over ice cream, while their older counterparts lean toward accompanying more savory treats like stilton and pates.

With so many flavor profiles, it is easy to see why whiskey producers turn to sherry casks to add more complexity to their liquids.

If you would like to add more complexity to your whiskey cask portfolio, please contact our experienced team, who will be happy to help.

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