A Comprehensive Guide to Whisky Tasting & Appreciating

A Comprehensive Guide to Whisky Tasting & Appreciating


Let’s set the scene…Your eagerly-awaited package from Cask Trade has finally arrived – the cask strength whisky samples are finally in your possession. Now it’s time to nose, taste, and appreciate. There is, however, more to whisky tasting than you think, and certainly, a few dos and don’ts to get the maximum appreciation when tasting this wonderful spirit. Below is our guide to help you on your journey of whisky discovery.

THE SETTING – The key here is to find the most neutral environment you can. The kitchen, for example, can be a very poor place to taste whisky, especially if there are lingering smells of cooking, coffee etc. Another pitfall is smoke, so steer clear of all cigars and cigarettes in this moment.

THE TIME OF DAY – The best time of day to appreciate whisky is actually in the morning! The reason for this is that this is when your palate is freshest and hasn’t been dulled by various meals and liquid consumption. Therefore, to truly discover the intricate flavours of these wonderful whiskies, try to taste mid-morning rather than late at night. If you wanted an excuse to drink alcohol in the morning, now have it!

THE WHISKY TASTING GLASS – The shape and quality of the glass is incredibly important in enhancing your enjoyment of tasting whisky. At Cask Trade we use Glencairn glasses in our Regent Street tasting room and for all our events. The design curves inwards which funnels and concentrates the flavours of the whisky. This style of glass is widely available and inexpensive. As an alternative, a small wine or port glass could be substituted but avoid large red wine glasses, tumblers and shot glasses.

THE WATER – We suggest a bottle of mineral water at room temperature. Ice and chilled water should be avoided as they will suppress the flavour of the whisky. Tap water can be quite variable, so is not recommended.

Pouring whisky


Before you start the whisky tasting it’s time to assess the colour and viscosity. If for example the whisky has been aged in a sherry cask, then look for different shades of a reddish mahogany hue. A pale golden colour will indicate a bourbon cask. Whilst age can certainly deepen the colour of the whisky, it isn’t the most reliable indicator as other factors, such as the age of cask the whisky is matured in. Pour the whisky into the glass and hold up against the light.

We find that making notes helps the process, especially if you are tasting a significant number of whiskies. An important point of difference is that many whiskies that have been bottled, have been coloured with small amounts of tasteless caramel. Whisky companies do this because the whisky does not age uniformly in the casks, so by shading the colours between batches, they get a consistency of colour. At Cask Trade you are only tasting the real, pure, unadulterated whisky, straight from the cask.


Long legs or short legs is what you’re looking for here. Swirl the glass around and you will see what is known as the ‘legs’ tumbling down the glass. Longs legs are a good indication of high alcohol content (which should be the case with cask strength whisky), whilst slow-moving legs indicate a whisky that is quite oily.

Whisky tasting


Our nose can detect literally 100’s of flavours, whilst our tongue can only detect five! Therefore, the nosing of the whisky is so key to appreciation. We suggest you start by bringing the glass slowly towards your nose and then gently smell the whisky. With high strength whisky you have to be careful, as you may anesthetise your nose. If this does happen, a useful trick is to sniff the back of your hand and this should ‘reset’ your olfactory bulb, which is responsible for your sense of smell. At this point, we recommend that you don’t swirl the glass anymore as this can release more ethanol notes, which is not what we are aiming for.

Continue to gently nose the whisky by moving the glass away and towards your nose, not forgetting to try nosing with one nostril and then the other. Again, we recommend that you make notes as you go along. We should also point out that there are no wrong or right answers here, as the aromas you are picking up are going to vary from person to person. Read the tasting notes for the same whisky from two industry experts and see how completely different they can be.

Helpful tip – If you are tasting more than one sample from different regions, then start with the non-peated, sweet, fruity, Speyside distilleries and finish with the most earthy, spicy, peaty, Highland/Islays.


Our palate can only pick up only five different flavours; sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and savoury. This is why when we have a cold, our food tastes quite bland. However, the tasting and drinking is the fun part, so take a small sip of the whisky and hold it in your mouth for a few seconds, swirling it from one side of your tongue to the other.

Again, at this point, we find it useful to take notes as you’re going along. Try to pick out the different types of fruit, sweetness, nutty, smoky, earthy, floral, spicy flavours that you are detecting. Also, assess the texture and mouthfeel. Is it full-bodied, or light and thin? Does it have a creamy texture? Do the flavours and texture change in your mouth?

Drinking whisky


How is the finish? Does the flavour linger in the back of your throat, or does it dissipate quite quickly? In essence, is it a long or short finish?


Now’s the time to repeat the whole process and drink some more whisky! However, this time we recommend that you add a tiny drop of water. The water causes a chemical reaction and opens the whisky up, allowing more flavours and aromas to come to the fore. Try adding a little more water each time and notice the differences until you get to where you reach a point that suits your palate. This can actually change from whisky to whisky, depending on your own preference, and the individual reaction of each whisky to the water.

THE REFILL – How to taste whisky is certainly subjective and it is all about your own appreciation and how you like to drink it. We hope you find the above a useful guide, to maximise your enjoyment in tasting our cask spirits. Our customers are regularly invited to our special tasting room on Regent Street London to sample some of our very special casks. We hope to see you there soon.

If you’d like to visit us and you’re interested in purchasing a cask, feel free to book a whisky tasting with the Masters. Contact us here.

Scotch Whisky Growth – Will it continue?

Scotch Whisky Growth – Will it continue?


It’s clear that in the last 10 years, Scotch Whisky sales have grown exponentially. This has led to the price of bottles and casks at all levels of the market increasing in value – the laws of supply and demand are evidentially at work. The question that investors must ask though will this growth continue? The answer we think is yes, and in this article, we will articulate why the future continues to look very bright for the world’s favourite spirit.

Firstly, to paraphrase a former US defense secretary, let’s ponder the known unknowns. Scotch whisky is a global product with over 170 export markets, and it has certainly faced adversity in various forms including wars, political instability, government tax policies, economic recessions, and unforeseen global pandemics. However, taking all this into account we’re still confident the growth trend is going to only go in one direction for the foreseeable future, and here is why…



Currently, there are over 50 million whisky bottle sales in India but Scotch Whisky only accounts for about 2% of this (the majority is very cheap Indian whisky). The stumbling block here is the eye-watering 150% tariff imposed by the Indian government. Complicating matters further, are the extra variable regulations and taxation from all 28 Indian States. This in effect, creates a very complex, expensive marketplace. When you consider that the average salary in India is a lot less than in the UK, it is clear, that only the wealthier tiers of the population can afford Scotch Whisky.

However, the good news is on the way. Having left the EU, the UK government is now free to pursue its own trade policy, and negotiations with the Indian government are at an advanced stage to vastly reduce this tariff. When this happens, combined with India’s 1.4 billion population and rapidly growing number of middle-class, we expect Scotch Whisky sales to rocket upwards.



Sales of Scotch Whisky have grown tenfold in the last 20 years in China, and whilst the tariff is very low at 5% there are major challenges in this market. Number one is the issue with fake whisky, which takes away a large percentage of sales and the reluctance of the authorities to enforce penalties on the bootleggers. However, the positives for this market are that the Chinese consumer is now much less tolerant of these shenanigans and is starting to demand the real liquid.

Another optimistic trend is the growth in Single Malt Whisky and older more Premium Blends. The Scotch Whisky companies are investing a lot into China and it’s hard to see anything but very positive growth for the years to come. China also has a huge population of 1.5 billion, so even a small percentage increase in consumer demand will have a significant increase in total sales.

Asia Pacific


Market trends have predicted the fastest growth for Scotch Whisky in this region than any other in the world. Higher disposable incomes in the Asian Tiger economies of countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore are expected to be the main driving force. One interesting trend is the growth in Single Malt Whisky and the Whisky Enthusiast market in general. In many countries Blended Whisky leads the way and establishes the market, then as the consumer becomes more knowledgeable the demand for older whiskies and Single Malt brands increases.

Economic growth in this region is expected to develop faster than anywhere else in the world, therefore even if Scotch Whisky just grows in-line with GDP, the increase in sales will be very significant indeed. The UK government is also signing several FTA’s in this region including in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and is expected to be invited to join TTIP in the near future. (The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership).

South America


Similar to Asia, this region has incredible growth potential. Brazil and Mexico have become large Scotch Whisky markets and countries like Chile, Argentina and Columbia are growing fast. Consumers in this region see Scotch Whisky as very aspirational and when they reach a certain level of income, they want to be seen to be drinking the famous brands, almost as a status symbol. There are plenty of economic and political challenges in this region (see Venezuela) but the positives are certainly outweighing any negatives at present.



This is the most valuable market in the world for Scotch Whisky and spirits in general – again there are many positives to consider. The 25% extra trade war tariff that was imposed on Scotch imports has now been suspended for five years, which should mean that sales will pick up again for 2021.

The UK and US governments have started negotiations on a long-term free trade agreement which will at some point be finalised and signed.

Again, this will accelerate the sales growth in Scotch Whisky in its most important market. The US market is very mature with many knowledgeable consumers who purchase the older expressions of Single Malt Whisky. Good growth in this market will put increased pressure on the more mature aged stock, thus increasing prices.



In recent years, South Africa has become a very important market fuelled by the rising number of middle-class people in that country. Africa overall has great growth potential but is starting from a very low base in terms of sales.

However, the potential upside is huge and whisky companies have started to invest in countries like Kenya, Nigeria, and Angola. This is the hardest region to predict, but due to the expanding number of middle-class consumers, the signs do look very positive.

Eastern Europe


Despite the challenges of 2020 the two largest markets of Russia and Latvia still managed to grow by 14.2% and 11.9% respectively! The future certainly looks bright in this part of the world. Trends here show that wealthy consumers see Scotch Whisky as a real aspirational status symbol. Denied to most consumers trapped behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ they are certainly making up for lost time. Russian consumers are increasingly drinking more Single Malts like Macallan and are attracted to the older luxury brands in general.

CONCLUSION – Currently, Blended Whisky accounts for about 85% of all Scotch Whisky consumed, with the rest mainly made up of Single Malt. The long-term global trend shows that the real growth will come from Single Malt Whisky and the Premium Blends. This will put more pressure on aged stocks and will keep the price inflation moving at a healthy rate. Consumers are becoming increasingly aspirational and are drawn to brands that have real history and heritage.

This is the ace card for the Scotch Whisky industry as this is something they have in abundance, and the marketing and packaging of these brands has improved immensely over the last 10 years. Whilst there are a number of smaller new distilleries opening all the time, the demand for their whisky is at present unclear. However, sourcing casks from the many established distilleries has become increasingly harder as the demand goes up.

Finally, with all the FTAs that the UK government are currently signing and that are in the pipeline, this can only help the future sales of a global export like Scotch Whisky. To conclude, when looking at the global market all the long-term trends are heavily pointing upwards, and even scratching beneath the surface reveals that the growth potential is huge, especially in many of the emerging markets. We feel that despite the incredibly challenging 2020 all the indicators point to the Scotch Whisky Industry continuing its success, and the economic pressures of supply and demand pushing prices and investments higher for the short, medium, and long term.

Sources: Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch Whisky Industry Review, British Government.

To find out more about Scotch Whisky Investment, contact the Masters today.

Myriam’s Distillery Focuses – Lindores Abbey & Isle of Harris Distillery

Myriam’s Distillery Focuses – Lindores Abbey & Isle of Harris Distillery

Sales and Marketing Manager Myriam Mackenzie had the pleasure of returning to her Scottish roots on a recent trip to Scotch-land, where she enjoyed visiting a few fantastic distilleries.

Lindores Abbey Distillery

Lindores Abbey Distillery

A recent visit to Scotland included a tour around Lindores Abbey Distillery in Fife. A relatively new distillery, founded in 2017, it is referred to as the spiritual home of Scotch whisky. The site and abbey ruins are steeped in history and lay claim to the first written record of whisky production dating back to 1494. Friar John Cor, a monk at the Abbey of Lindores, wrote a letter whereby he stated that by order of King James IV, he was instructed to make “aqua vitae, VIII bolls of malt”. Distillation of aqua vitae (meaning ‘water of life’ in Latin) was popular in monasteries at the time and later commonly referred to as ‘uisge beatha’ in Scottish Gaelic. Today, this historic spirit is widely known as whisky.

Lindores Abbey Distillery

With a modest annual production of 225,000 litres which is set to expand further this year, the family-owned distillery shows clear dedication to heritage and craft. They use local barley grown in the surrounding fields which were under the original ownership of the abbey in the 15th century. This year saw the release of their very first whisky: the Lindores Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky matured in a selection of ex-bourbon barrels, ex-sherry casks and ex-wine barriques. A visit to the warehouse gives the impression that the owners are open to experimentation with different types of cask maturation. Among the typical bourbon barrels used in the industry, I also noted an interesting selection of casks of varying sizes from Spain, Portugal, and even Australian wineries. They proudly refer to their cask selection and ‘Kingdom of Fife’ barley on the label, but notably also their team of ‘Lindores people’, as well as a thank you to those who have contributed to their story by buying a bottle.

A beautifully presented distillery inside and out, when you visit it you instantly feel you are part of their story. The still room has an impressive view which overlooks the abbey ruins and the visitor centre contains local historical artefacts, including some of the original pillars of the abbey. The tour involves a great deal of history too which is what ultimately inspired the building of this new distillery and community at Lindores. In the words of the late whisky writer, Michael Jackson, “for the whisky-lover, it is a pilgrimage”.

Isle of Harris Distillery

Isle of Harris Distillery

Located in the Outer Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland, the Isle of Harris Distillery was founded in 2014 by a group of investors who shared a passion for whisky, the island community, and the landscape of Harris. Among them, a former marketing director for Glenmorangie who now manages the distillery. The core values behind this unique enterprise represent the rich heritage and warm hospitality of the island. Known as ‘the social distillery’, they seek to employ people with connections to Harris or from the island itself and train them in the art of whisky-making. This brings much-needed employment to a modest island population and it’s beneficial for tourism too. Harris distillery now welcomes over 100,000 visitors a year.

Isle of Harris Distillery

Everything about this community-driven project has been carefully crafted, from the distillery layout to the final product. When you walk into the warehouse, there’s a sense of creativity and individuality as well as a homage to tradition. The casks bear the emblematic Harris logo as well as the hand-written messages and names of the investors who bought the first casks laid down by the distillery. Also in the warehouse is an art installation of staves, another thoughtful addition and dedication to those that helped fund the beginnings of the distillery. I’m proud to say ‘The Mackenzie Spirit’ is engraved into one of these staves!

Today the core product is Harris gin; a smooth refreshing gin made from nine botanicals with locally harvested sugar kelp, presented in an iconic bottle that is inspired by the sea. Yet to come, is the whisky – a non-chill filter natural colour whisky which is to be named the Hearach (translating as a person from Harris in Scottish Gaelic). There is no release date yet for their whisky, all we’re told on the tour is that ‘we’re not in a hurry’. In the meantime, you can taste the peated new-make spirit made from concerto barley and at the end of the tour you are offered a dram of Highland Park 12-Year-Old as a nod to the style of whisky the distillery aspires to create.

To find out more about investing in Whisky Casks and to speak to the Masters themselves, contact the Team today!

Meet the Masters – Alan Ng

Meet the Masters – Alan Ng


As the newest member of the Cask Trade family, Alan is helping John Wong head up our new Hong Kong office and is joining us as a Sales & Marketing Executive and fellow Whisky nerd.

How long have you worked for Cask Trade?
I started working in Cask Trade at the end of July. So I have worked for almost a month!

What first ignited your passion for Whisky?
I joined a wonderful whisky tour when I was traveling in Edinburgh. That was the first time I tried single malt Scotch Whisky and I have fallen in love with whisky ever since.

What are your top three favourite World whiskies and why?
1. Caol Ila from Scotland
It has a taste of soft smoke and peat which makes a perfect balanced whisky.
2. Cooley from Ireland.
Irish Whiskey often gives a smooth mouthfeel and elegant fruit flavour because of its unique triple distilled method.
3. Kavalan from Taiwan
Kavalan whisky provides a strong oaky and spicy flavour, especially those matured in a sherry cask. You will definitely love it if you are a sherry-casked whisky lover.

What are your favourite flavours? Which aspects of whisky are the most important for you?
It is really hard to pick one favourite because I like many of them. But if I really had to choose one, it would be peat.
I would say the taste of the whisky is the most important for me. Every single whisky has its own distinctive taste because of its uniqueness. I will never get tired of having whisky every day.

Your favourite whisky cocktail?
My favourite whisky cocktail would be an Old Fashion. I like the flavour when the whisky is mixed with the bitters, it tastes so amazing!

Whisky with water or straight cask strength?
It depends. Straight cask strength can give you a strong, powerful and full flavour of the whisky, meanwhile, whisky with water has a nice elegant and comfortable taste. So, why not both?

What do you like most about Cask Trade?
I like working with the people here in Cask Trade, very friendly and helpful to each other.

Why should people invest in Whisky Casks?
Whisky Casks are really a nice long-term investment as older whiskies are getting more and more rare and expensive, so it would be a very good foresight to invest in Whisky Casks.

To find out more about what Cask Trade can do for you, don’t hesitate to contact the team today and let’s talk whisky!

John’s HK Office Tipples – Braeval

John’s HK Office Tipples – Braeval

John and his dram

Braeval bottled by The Good Spirits HK, 1997/2021 58.4%, supplied by Cask Trade

From time to time I will share with you whisky lovers about drams I have at the office – we definitely do not promote worktime drinking – except when drinking is part of the job…!

Indie bottlings have long been a field where drinkers and connoisseurs hunt for something “special” – may it be flavour profile, cask type, or even label design, indie bottlers never fail to amaze us. Last month we talked about how rare it is to see an indie Balvenie, today we are going to explore something more recent.

Braeval Distillery, originally known as Braes of Glenlivet, is considered quite unique and has rarely been seen as a single malt until recent years. The stills at Braeval Distillery feature thin swan necks and upward sloping lyne arms – designed to create a light style of distillate. Let’s see how this affects the performance of the whisky!

Enough talking, let’s go back to the whisky:

Nose: Wildflowers, Fresh Peach, Honey, Vanilla and a little bit White Oak

Palate: The floral aroma lingers, Honey, Banana and more Yellow Fruits

Finish: Juicy fruits along with a hint of warm oak spice

To find out more about John and our new Hong Kong office and offerings, get in touch today.

Meet the Masters – Hugh Troup

Meet the Masters – Hugh Troup

Meet the Masters - Hugh Troup

From juvenile pallet to Whisky Master, new Sales & Marketing Executive Hugh Troup explains how whisky lit a fire in his belly fairly early on, influencing his decision to follow his passion.

How long have you worked for Cask Trade? 

Two weeks now and loving every minute!

What first ignited your passion for Whisky?
My Godfather purchased a cask of whisky when I was born and 14 years later had it bottled. He let me try a sample when I turned 18 and I must admit, I thought it was way too rich and powerful for my delicate, juvenile palate…! As the years went by and my skill and knowledge increased, I was digging through some old boxes and found he had left me two cases of the stuff! I examined the bottle again, opened a fresh one up was delighted to sample this independently bottled 14-year-old Springbank at 56% ABV. This experience lit a fire in my belly (metaphorically and literally speaking) and drove me onward to learn and develop my knowledge further. 

What are your top three favourite World Whiskies and why?
What are your top three favourite songs? It’s an impossible question for me as my palate is always changing but there are some drams that I’ll always fall back on -1994 Tomatin Single Cask 21-year-old, Laphroaig Lore, and Highland Park 18-year-old are just brilliant, always. 

What are your favourite flavours? Which aspects of Whisky are the most important for you?
Flavour-wise, I love Islay Peat; that rich iodine, seaweed brine and oily smoke is just iconic and instantly recognisable. I also love anything that is all vanilla and cream-soda, and finally I love a nutty rancio flavour. For me the texture of the dram is definitely up there, I love the broad spectrum you can get so long as it’s not confused and muddled.

Your favourite Whisky cocktail?
Blood & Sand, unusual but a good one is a real delight. 

Whisky with water or straight cask strength?
Always straight from the cask for me, then add some water after to open it up and explore the more subtle and nuanced flavours.

What do you like most about Cask Trade?
The people. The team’s passion, knowledge and humour are infectious, and I’m enthralled by the day-to-day conversations, debates and wit that fly around the office.

Why should people invest in Whisky Casks?
Because it’s exciting, lucrative and an ever-evolving investment. There are few other alternative investments out there that you can watch mature over the years, sample and quite literally taste the fruits of your labours!

To find out more about what Cask Trade can do for you, don’t hesitate to contact the team today and let’s talk whisky!

Six Different Types of Whisk(e)y a Whisk(e)y Lover Should Know

Six Different Types of Whisk(e)y a Whisk(e)y Lover Should Know

Have you ever faced the issue of not knowing how some of the most common and famous whisk(e)y styles differ from each other? Anyone who calls themself a “Whisk(e)y Lover” should be aware of the wide variety of this world-famous beverage which is now readily available in your local bar or retailer.

The key differences that arise in Whiskies produced worldwide can be attributed to four major factors:

1. The type of grain used.
2. The production process.
3. The location of origin.
4. The maturation period.

Based on the factors mentioned above, Whiskies are divided into numerous types globally. Here, I have compiled for you a list of different whiskies produced on the planet so that the next time you’re looking to make a purchase you’ll know how they differ from one another.


All producers have to follow a very strict set of rules to be able call their spirit Scotch Whisky. Made entirely in Scotland with either malt or grain, the spirit has to be mixed and aged in oak casks of a maximum 700 liters volume for a minimum of more than three years. Only when these Scottish whisky-making laws are followed to precision can a bottle be labeled Scotch, with a generally smoother earthy and smoky flavor profile that differs with regions.


Typically distilled three times, Irish whiskey must be made in Ireland by law. Distilled using water and caramel coloring, a yeast-fermented mash of grain or malted cereals is aged in wooden casks for at least three years to make this signature drink. The Irish like to boast that their whiskey has a smoother finishing flavor in comparison to Scotch. This is debatable.


As the name suggests, Japanese whisky is explicitly produced in Japan. Made using double malted or peated barley, the Japanese brewers age the spirit in a wooden cask by a process similar to making Scotch. Japanese whisky comes only as single malts or blends, has a drier and smokier flavor, and is world-famous for its high quality. The first Japanese distiller served an apprenticeship in Scotland and started distilling in Japan in 1923. Japanese & Scotch whisky have many similarities for this reason.


Primarily made from a mash containing at least 51% corn, this distilled American whiskey must be stored in charred oak casks and made entirely in America to qualify as Bourbon. Sweet tasting Bourbon available in American liquor stores does not contain any additives and has a bit of smoky flavor and reddish appearance due to fermentation in charred oak casks.


Classified as bourbon under NAFTA, Tennessee whiskey defines a unique whiskey style produced in the Tennessee state of the USA. State law requires all Tennessee whiskey producers to make the beverage in-state and filter it through sugar maple charcoal using the Lincoln County Process before aging. The rest of the distillation process is similar to Bourbon.


Like bourbon, Rye whiskey is also produced in North America but with a mash of at least 51% rye and is aged for at least two years in charred barrels. Since rye is a type of grass and a member of the wheat family, it imparts a spicy or fruity flavor to the rye whiskey found in any spirits store and is excellent for making whiskey cocktails.


What do you call it? Whiskey or Whisky? Even though this question confuses even the most veteran drinkers, how it is spelled depends on where it was made. Irish traditions dictate using Whiskey with an e, which was carried to the Americans. On the other hand, Scottish distillers prefer using Whisky without an e, followed by the breweries in Japan and all other countries.

Now that you’re aware of all the vast varieties of whiskey and their differences, I’m sure tackling tricky whiskey situations at the local supermarket or having spirited discussions with fellow whiskey lovers will not be a problem.

Author bio:
Andrew Christian works as a store manager in Arrow Liquormart, a famous liquor and wine store in Littleton, Colorado. He loves his combination of nature, wine, and nerdy friends who appreciate his homemade wines.





To find out more about how Whisky Cask Investment can work for you, contact The Masters today!

Fact File on American White Oak Barrels

Fact File on American White Oak Barrels

The use of wooden barrels was first made famous by the Romans, who used oak barrels to transport wine. Barrels of oak has since then been in continuous use due to their many unique properties like high density, strength, toughness, and rot resistance.

Used wooden barrels have been preferred by spirit makers to ferment and age different spirits globally, but American White Oak Barrels are the ones in most demand. Apart from the strength, durability, liquid tightness, and suitability to coopering, essential chemicals such as tyloses, hemicellulose, lignin, vanillin, tannins, lactones, etc., make white oak barrels an ideal choice for ageing spirits.

Considering oak’s profound effects on the taste of various spirits, you need to understand it’s the minor details that make oak barrels the first choice of any brewer on the planet. Their contribution to the texture, aroma, and flavours of the spirits stored inside them are so awe-inspiring that even Google is bored of telling people where to buy wooden barrels.

Whisky barrel

Let me tell you everything you have ever wanted to know about barrels of oak and their use in making premium quality alcoholic beverages.

The spirits stored inside oak barrels experience three broadly classified effects on them:

AS A FILTER – The activated carbon present in charred White Oak Barrels filters out undesirable impurities, making it easier for the stored alcohol to seep into the wood cracks.

– Various sugars, oils, and other chemicals present in oak barrels seep into the spirits, and add to the finished beverage’s texture, flavour, and aroma.

AS AN ENHANCER – The American White Oak Barrel also interacts with the alcohol to impart natural finishing tones by slowly converting chemicals like tannins into acetals and acetic acid into fruity esters.

Moreover, various chemical constituents of the American White Oak Barrel Wood influence maturing spirits in different ways:

HEMICELLULOSE – Consisting of simple sugars that break down when heated, they provide body to the spirits by adding wood sugars for toasty and caramelized aromas, flavours, and color.

LIGNIN – A binding agent that holds the wood cellulose together, they yield vanillin when heated to add sweet, smoky, and spice aroma to the spirits.

TANNINS – Naturally occurring preservative compounds with a slightly puckery astringent taste, they help maturation by enabling oxidation and creating delicate fragrances by forming acetals in the stored spirits.

LACTONES – Resulting from lipids in the American White Aak Barrels, they increase dramatically during toasting or charring and impart a solid woody and coconutty taste profile to the spirit.

CELLULOSE – An essential component of the plant cell wall, it has virtually no effects on spirits stored for under seven years. After six or seven years, it starts breaking down into glucose sugar.

The American White Oak Barrel

Quercus Alba, also known as the American White Oak, dominates the barrel industry thanks to the mandated use of new charred White Oak Barrels for alcohol ageing. Spirits aged in charred American White Oak Barrels mature more quickly than those aged in non-charred or toasted barrels.

The charred layer of the American White Oak Barrel wood also functions as a charcoal filter, absorbing the sulfur compounds and serving as a passage for alcohol through the pores. American White Oak Barrels tend to be stronger in flavour, often described as cherry-cream soda, vanilla, or coconut, and whose oils result in spirits with a slightly thicker, creamy texture.

The American White Oak species also contains more sweetness, more spice, and more tannins. The sugar flavours are typically more stewed or cooked, reminiscent of fig raisin pudding and campfire smores. There’s an additional weight given to the alcohol due to the more prominent presence of toasted sugar.

Lastly and strangely, sometimes American White Oak Barrels can often impart a dill weed smell depending on the toasting level and ageing time. It is hard to believe that either dill or coconut, dramatically different smells, can be the hallmark aroma of White Oak Barrels.

Kegs and beer

Life Cycle of the American White Oak Barrels

Over 600 species of oak are found globally, and the United States alone has over 90 of them. From the forests to the distilleries and your home, the life cycle of White Oak Barrels is a rather fulfilling journey of never-ending usefulness.

The Harvest

Word around the cooperages is that an oak tree needs to be at least 75 years old to be mature enough for making good Oak Barrels. Many other criteria like straight trunks, mature fibers, closed pores, etc., also need to be considered before harvesting. The American White Oak Barrels are made from the high-quality timber of the locally found Quercus Alba species.

The Seasoning

Once the wood has been harvested, coopers start seasoning long pieces of oakwood called staves by air-drying them for a couple of years. Seasoned staves are then toasted to make them pliant and soften the woody flavours.

Barrel Building

Coopers bend the wooden staves to make new Oak Barrels. Rumours suggest that a skilled cooper can assemble an utterly leak-proof barrel in just a few minutes without using any glue or fasteners!

Fermentation & Ageing

Now that the White Oak Barrels are ready, they can be used to ferment or age a wide range of spirits such as wine, whiskey, bourbon, rum, tequila, sherry, and much more. Newly-made charred American White Oak Barrel is mandated to be used as Bourbon Barrels in the United States.

Continuous Re-use

It is well known that used wooden barrels are not thrown away; they are repeatedly refilled with different spirits to impart subtle flavours into the alcohol; the older the Oak Barrel, the more subtle its flavours. Oak Whiskey Barrels are often reused by Scottish whisky distillers to age their premium scotch.

Upcycling Prospects

Once damaged, these old and used wooden barrels can be used in several ways to add unique rustic decor elements to any establishment, even your home. Just cutting wooden barrels in half will give you two beautiful chic planters for your garden.

Now that you know so much about the American White Oak Barrel, I hope it will no longer be a problem to figure out where to buy wooden barrels and whether those used wooden barrels are genuine White Oak Barrels, or not.

Author Bio:
Rachel Moore works as a Marketing Manager at Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. Rocky Mountain Barrel Company provides used wooden barrels for spirits, like bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels, and wine barrels. Rachel Moore loves her combination of nature, wine, and nerdy friends who appreciate her homemade wines.

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To find out more about how Whisky Cask Investment can work for you, contact The Masters today!

Oak Casks 101 – Your Essential Guide

Oak Casks 101 – Your Essential Guide


Our handy guide is designed to demystify some of the cask type terminologies and to give you the investor a better understanding of the casks used, their sizes and what effects they have on the whisky or rum.

From the most commonly used American White Oak Barrel to the lesser-known European Oak Madeira Drum, we explore the various cask types and how they impact the flavours of the delicious golden nectar within.

The origins of Oak Casks can be traced back to the Romans; these wooden barrels have been used ever since for holding and transporting a whole plethora of different products. The Romans discovered that the White Oak tree was the best material to use because when sawed in a certain way it becomes completely watertight. Then, by either charring or toasting the barrel not only is the wood shaped but the layers of char or burnt wood inside also impart flavour and colour to the spirit. 

Today the majority of whisky and rum is aged in ex American Whiskey Casks which are made from White Oak. One of the key rules for making American Whiskey is it must be aged in new barrels. This law actually stems back to the post Prohibition years when American distillers started opening up legally again in 1933. At the time, the Coopers Union were quite a militant bunch and they struck a deal that only new barrels could be used. This was a license to print money for the coopers because these casks had a shelf life of at least 50+ years, whilst the distillers were only using them for two to eight years on average.


Ageing in new casks gave American Whiskey a pronounced spicy and sweet quality and eventually, this became one of the signatures of the US-style and thus one of the required laws. Today, the huge global successes of brands like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam has resulted in millions of these White Oak Casks becoming available on the market. This is why roughly 80+ percent of all Scotch Whisky is aged in these American barrels. 

QUARTER OAK CASK – 50 litres  

As the name suggests this is a quarter of the size of your standard American Barrel. The much smaller size provides a greater surface-to-liquid ratio. The spirit would certainly age quicker in this type of cask but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. There is a school of thought that the larger casks provide a much better outcome. 


Made from American White Oak, this is the most common type of Barrel used today. The Barrel is known for imparting sweet and spicy vanilla notes into the spirit.


WINE BARRIQUE – 225 litres

These are typically used in the Bordeaux region of France but can come from other areas of the wine industry. They’re made from French Oak.

Port Barrique

 HOGSHEAD – 250 litres

Universally known as ‘Hoggies’ these Barrels are essentially reassembled American Standard Barrels which are shipped as flat-packed staves and then rebuilt into the slightly larger Hogsheads. Five American Barrels makes four Hogsheads. The Scots prefer this size of barrel as it allows them to store more whisky efficiently in their warehouses.


COGNAC BARRIQUE – 300 litres 

These are mainly used by the Scotch Whisky Industry to give special finishes to various Malt Whiskies. Larger than their wine industry cousin they are also made from French Oak. 

SHERRY BUTTS – 500 litres

These are the second most common type of casks and are mainly used by the Whisky Industry. They’re known for imparting rich, dry fruity notes into the spirit as well as turning it a red mahogany hue. These casks are highly sought-after and there is a real shortage; mainly due to the fact that very few people drink sherry anymore compared to yesteryear. One of the ways the Scotch Whisky Industry is innovating to get around this problem is by paying the Sherry Bodegas to produce Sherry to season the casks. After the casks are seasoned they are transported to Scotland where they then are used to age the whisky.

What happens to the surplus Sherry you may be wondering? It is usually either sold off cheaply or used in products like vinegar. These casks are made from thick European oak staves and are wider and more elongated than the American Barrels so are easily spotted in any warehouse. Generally, they are ex-Oloroso casks although you will find all different styles of Sherry used. Ex-PX casks are also becoming more commonly used.

Sherry butt

SHERRY PUNCHEON – 500 litres

They’re the same as the Sherry Butts but have a much shorter, squatter shape.

PORT PIPES – 650 litres

Like Sherry casks, they are made from thick European oak staves. Used by the Port Industry these casks are long and slender and the Scotch Whisky Industry uses them to finish their whiskies. They’re certainly becoming a lot more common with the success of various expressions from popular distilleries i.e. Balvenie and Glenmorangie.

MADEIRA DRUMS – 650 litres

These are the same as Port Pipes but have also been seasoned with Madeira. It gives the whisky a different flavour when finished in these casks. Again it is becoming increasingly more fashionable to use Madeira Drums. 

Interestingly enough, there are larger casks out there but the law for Scotch whisky says that the maximum size is 700 litres.

To find out more about how Whisky Cask Investment can work for you, contact The Masters today!

John’s HK Office Tipples – The Balvenie

John’s HK Office Tipples – The Balvenie

John and his dram

The Balvenie bottled by Robert Watson, Imported by Intertrade, 1975/1985 “Overproof”

From time to time John Wong, who’s heading up our newly-opened Hong Kong office as Director of Sales, will share with you whisky lovers about drams he has at the office. We definitely do not promote worktime drinking – except when drinking is part of the job…!

“What? A Balvenie indie bottling?” – This may be the first thought in your mind for our veteran whisky lovers. It is indeed uncommon for you to spot an independent bottling carrying the Balvenie name now. Things were a little bit different back then. This is a 10-year-old Balvenie “direct from the cask” distilled in 1975, bottled at 57.5% ABV. Ironically, this old bottle seems to fit the checkboxes for a modern-day whisky lover. “High strength”, “big name”, “straight from the cask” … Sometimes I do wonder, since when have the drinkers become so fascinated about certain “keywords”, and why?

I honestly think there is no correct answer, but one undeniable fact is the advancement in information technology. This has certainly promoted transparency in the whisky business. Whisky lovers around the world can now easily discuss and share information on almost everything about whisky. From new releases and distillery announcements to ultra geeky debates about production methods, or even insider stories. Transparency is essential to cask trading as well. After all, you would want to know as much as possible about what you are buying, sampling, or even bottling!

So, for the sake of transparency, it’s time to break the sad news. Today the Balvenie cask is like a unicorn – how great would it be, if you could see one yourself, right? Fortunately, that is not the end of the story. There are teaspooned casks available on the market from time to time that are believed to have a considerable amount of Balvenie liquid in it. Also, a rising star in the bottling world, Aldunie, shares some of those Balvenie genes! Aldunie is the teaspooned blended malt from Kininvie Distillery. It is at the same site as Balvenie and Glenfiddich (they all belong to William Grant & Sons). The mashing and malting of Kininvie takes place within Balvenie distillery. The Aldunie liquid carries the classic light and fresh Speyside character. You can often detect notes of honeysuckle, pears, and red apples!

Enough talking, let’s get back to the whisky:

The nose is so vibrant and powerful – even after almost 40 years in glass! The bottle ageing polished the high strength liquid. There is no alcohol attack, instead it is full of pears, stewed apples, and dry hay. With time, it gives pecan pie and dried pineapples. The palate is explosive with candied stem ginger, green apples, and other yellow fruits. With a long and almost everlasting finish! This is the ideal whisky for both veterans and modern-day whisky lovers alike.

To find out more about John and our new Hong Kong office and offerings, get in touch today.