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Whisky Words: Oak

Whisky Words: Oak

Oak plays a crucial role in the Scotch whisky production process, primarily during maturation.

Vic Cameron, one of our whisky lecturers says: “Oak is the only wood that we are legally allowed to mature our new make spirit in to make whisky. There are different types of oak, mainly American oak and European oak. And oak is what actually gives the whisky its colour and gives it a lot of its flavour.”

Here's why oak is important:

1. Flavour

Oak casks impart a wide range of flavors and aromas to Scotch whisky. During maturation, the spirit interacts with the wood, extracting compounds such as vanillin, tannins, and lignin from the oak. These compounds contribute to the whisky's complexity and depth of flavor, adding notes of vanilla, caramel, spice, and sometimes even fruity or floral characteristics.

2. Colour

Oak is responsible for giving Scotch whisky its rich golden hue. As the spirit rests in the cask, it absorbs pigments from the wood, resulting in the development of a deeper color over time. The type of oak and the previous contents of the cask (such as bourbon or sherry) can influence the color of the whisky.

3. Maturation

Oak casks provide an ideal environment for whisky maturation. The porous nature of oak allows the spirit to breathe, facilitating the exchange of oxygen and other compounds between the whisky and the surrounding air. This process helps mellow the harsh edges of the spirit, smooth out flavors, and integrate different flavor components over time.

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