Why virgin oak?

20 October 2016

The debate about using brand-new oak casks to age whisky continues. Is it an attempt to short-cut a fuller maturation process?  Does it taste better than the conventional bourbon-aged spirit? Should it even be allowed? (more about the argument on scotchwhisky.com)

At Bruichladdich, we approach this conundrum as we do most things, empirically. We want to know how virgin oak influences the naturally oily and carefully-distilled spirit that we make here, so we place some of it straight off the stills into custom-made fresh casks of French oak, and see what happens. With Octomore spirit – made with the world’s most heavily peated malt barley – the flavour journey is particularly interesting, culminating in the release of Octomore 07.4 Virgin Oak.

Acquiring new casks, made to order at one of the world’s relatively few extant cooperages, represents a significant investment compared to picking up casks which have previously been used in Kentucky bourbon companies, French vineyards or even the designation-of-origin triangle of sherry. Earlier this year, we were excited to take delivery of 60 casks from Seguin Moreau in south-west France – bringing the proportion of these precious vessels that we have on Islay to around 0.35% of our stocks.

Each will be filled with 300 litres of spirit, from across our range of peating levels. Our head distiller, Adam Hannett, has plans, ‘We will fill some Octomore into them, we’ll fill some Port Charlotte into them, we’ll fill some Bruichladdich into them, and we’ll watch all these things start to develop, to create different spirits. We’re interested in all the variations that go into making whisky, and the casks we use are a part of that. We’ll follow it, and see what happens.’