Ask the expert: Ageing Scotch pre-Bourbon casks?
My understanding is that Bourbon is produced using new casks, freshly burnt to create the smoky taste, whilst Scotch whisky uses old bourbon casks to create their own unique taste. So, if whisky was around before bourbon, what did they use to age whisky in before bourbon was around, which presumably would have had a major impact on the taste of Scotch whisky?
It’s hard to give a definitive answer as to what casks were used before ex-Bourbon as different people did different things depending on the tastes and price ranges of their customers. Sherry casks were commonly used.
A fixed term maturation in Britain became law in 1915 when Lloyd George implemented the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915. This declared that the spirit must be matured in oak for a minimum of three years. Prior to this, most reputable whisky producers were already maturing their whisky in oak casks, although there were still some producers selling spirit straight from the still. The benefit of ageing whisky was known as far back as the 18th century.
It is worth remembering that distillers usually sold very little single malt retail, it was blenders and brokers who were the ones who decided at what age a whisky should be selected for blending and bottling and when it should be sold in a pub or a shop. Wine and spirit merchants at the time would have had access to all sorts of casks which could be used to age their whiskies.