Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Sherry Cask Finish
WHAT’S MY AGE AGAIN?
No other item on the whisky bottle garners as much attention as the age statement. So much so that when we come across a bottle with no age on the label, we flip it around and upside down looking for it. But what does it mean?
In Scotch whisky, an age statement of 12 years means that all of the whisky inside the bottle is at least 12 years old. To put it differently, the age statement is equivalent to the youngest whisky contained within. If you’re working that out in your head and it makes you scratch it, yes some of the whisky in the bottle may be older and often times it is. The distillery’s master blender combines whiskies from different barrels or casks to achieve a consistency across bottles and batches.
TWEAKING THE BLEND
Much like a cigar factory’s master blender, the master blender at the distillery maintains the whisky’s consistency year after year. In very different ways, Mother Nature provides the differences that these blenders work so hard to smooth over. In tobacco, growing cycles with heavy rain during the plant’s growth will yield a milder tobacco than cycles with bright, sunny days so the blender adjusts the blend recipe in search of consistency from batch to batch. In whisky, each barrel imparts a slightly different character to the spirit within. Apart from the natural differences in the wood itself, the temperature of the dunnage house plays the biggest role.
In Scotland, aging whisky is stored in a low, typically single-storied warehouse called a dunnage house. Their architecture is designed to keep the temperature as consistent as possible. You see, if the wood that comprises the barrel heats up, it loosens and allows the spirit to get deeper into the wood. When the temperature cools, the wood tightens back up and pushes the now woodier spirit back into the barrel. Barrels in warmer sections of the warehouse will invariably produce an oakier Scotch, while barrels in sections that are naturally cooler, perhaps from tree cover or other factors, can spend year after year aging and never come close to their warmer neighbors’ oakiness. We haven’t even touched on evaporation, another major factor.
AGED 25 YEARS
We’ve established the importance of the age statement on a bottle of Scotch; well this bottle of Grangestone Sherry Cask Finish says 25 on it. Whisky this old is not only difficult to find in a neighborhood liquor store but when you do find it, the sticker shock usually leaves you in the fetal position caressing the bottle and sucking on the cork like a pacifier. Prices usually start in the $400s and go up from there. With a suggested retail price of $129.99, the Grangestone Sherry Cask Finish 25 is a rock solid value play.
The Grangestone Sherry Cask Finish 25 has the quintessential Highland Scotch nose: green apple, honey, ripe fruit, and heavyhanded vanilla. In spite of its 25 years in a barrel, it has a light, golden straw color in the glass; this tells me that no artificial colors were used on this whisky, a major positive. On the palate the whisky is rather delicate and subdued with light flavors of white oak, citrus, and baking spices with a long, buttery finish.
CIGAR PAIRING: Herrera Esteli
A purely complimentary pairing, the Herrera Esteli brings loads of flavor but not a ton of strength; that’s ideal for the Grangestone. The cigar is superb on its own, with a rich and creamy profile of almonds, sweet pepper, and cedar but accompanied by the scotch the almonds hit a crescendo for a moment, before coming back down to earth with the rest of the flavors. As the scotch lingers on your palate every puff brings another spike in almonds but to a lesser degree each time until eventually the original Herrera Esteli profile returns. Then you take another sip of the Grangestone.