From small Scottish acorns, mighty oaks shall develop. As soon as they do, it’s anticipated they are going to mature and turn out to be the whisky casks of the longer term.
I was a bit bit skeptical concerning the ambition of Whyte & Mackay’s programme to plant Scottish oak woodland after I lately wrote about having fun with the brand new improved customer centre.To paraphrase myself: I questioned whether or not trendy companies usually have a 100-year ahead marketing strategy.
Since then, a few issues occurred. Whyte and Makay reached out with some extra info and inspired me to look additional into the subject. An opportunity encounter with a whisky firm CFO led to a dialogue. This CFO highlighted that, for whisky corporations to handle their cask inventories and future provide successfully, they want a minimum of a 60 12 months ahead plan. That is to make sure that there are sufficient casks laid down now that there’s sufficient inventory to assist the entire core expressions sooner or later. This plan has to consider the distillery’s progress plans and ambitions.
This was a little bit of a lightbulb second for me and, after all, seems apparent now. Think about working exhausting to develop new markets to your product solely to seek out out you don’t have inventory to fulfil orders. This has occurred earlier than, Glendronach famously offered a lot older whisky in its age assertion core vary to maintain these merchandise on the cabinets while they papered over the cracks of a earlier extended manufacturing shutdown. Scapa misplaced its age statements altogether for a interval main as much as this 12 months, to permit flexibility to handle inventory shortages too.
It’s a lot simpler to think about stretching an present 60 12 months marketing strategy to 100 years than the usual 7 12 months EBITDA cycle that drives industries I’m extra acquainted with. Inside these plans there have to be a major variety of assumptions and foresight.
One of many areas Whyte and Mackay are contemplating combating with the Scottish Oak challenge is cask availability, which is tightening within the American bourbon market on account of progress in American whiskey usually, and the reuse of casks. The opposite space the Scottish oak programme presents advantages is reaching local weather targets. Transport casks from the states is carbon intensive, and Scotch Whisky Affiliation members have dedicated to be net-zero by 2040, 10 years before the federal government goal. Subsequently, whisky distilled right this moment can be lower than 17 years previous within the casks when the goal must be achieved. Investing in forests now that may be included in carbon accounting within the close to time period is a great transfer.
Immediately Scottish oak casks are in excessive demand, with different distilleries exterior of the Whyte and Mackay secure – together with Glenallachie and mixing big Pernod Richard – acquiring casks. There are some notable present challenges with Scottish oak; there’s not a lot of a practice of administration of Scottish oak woodlands for wooden manufacturing, as such many historic woodlands are protected, with the one accessible timber being these which were fallen by the wind. These will not be all the time the perfect form and dimension for casks.
Then, the infrastructure to assist the forestry, transport and dealing with, milling of those timber, the making ready and coopering of the staves should even be constructed up, and present companies modernised and supported. As such, these extraordinarily bespoke casks add significantly to the price of the ultimate whiskies they produce. It’s tough to see a “true worth” within the product from a flavour viewpoint alone. Nevertheless the worth of the whisky ought to take into account then environmental advantage of extra oak woodland and decrease carbon footprints of the distillery because of this in these early releases… plus rarity, too, as there’s little or no Scottish oak Scotch to be discovered.
These increased price processes must happen earlier than a single cask is stuffed. Solely then can the whisky makers themselves get acquainted with the precise traits of the wooden itself and its impression on Scotch whisky flavour. The virgin or unused wooden won’t have had the harshness softened by three years of bourbon new make spirit; due to this fact the wooden will present a robust flavour when first stuffed. At Fettercairn the casks have been getting “seasoned” with new make to assist draw out the harshest of wooden notes. These casks are used principally for ending at the moment, to permit for a balancing of flavours. In time, the reuse of casks will permit for longer – and even full – maturation in Scottish oak.
How a lot Scottish oak can displace American oak will depend upon the pace at which industrial oak forests might be planted, but additionally the husbandry of these forests to make sure that the oaks develop straight and true to maximise the variety of staves that may be obtained from native timber. Usually solely a single cask might be obtained from every of the wind blow timber at the moment used. Even in America oaks yield simply two to 4 cask per tree after 70 to 100 years of progress.
The problem to interchange or offset the utilization of American oak casks is large. There are roughly 20 million casks in Scotland; utilizing the optimistic 4 casks per tree, with a sapling-to-mature tree ratio of 4:1 you’ll need due to this fact to plant 20 million oak timber in Scotland to interchange the entire American oak casks in 70 years time. Engaged on 400 mature timber in every hectare, 50,000 hectares of latest oak woodland can be required… or, virtually thrice the dimensions of Glasgow metropolis.
This maybe places perspective on the problem of growing extra Scottish oak casks, and one that’s prone to stay a comparatively small supply of casks going ahead. However, Whyte and Mackay (led by Grasp Blender Greg Glass) are forging forward with the event of a sustainable Scottish oak programme. Initially planting 15,000 oaks in 2021, relying on many components these small saplings might finally contribute as many as 15,000 casks.
The programme will step by step add extra oak woodland while additionally trying on the varied levels of cask manufacturing to make sure that there’s the gear and the talents sooner or later to assist a local cask trade. These expertise embrace the foresters, the sawmill staff, and likewise the coopers. Apparently, the coopers in Scotland are skilled in rejuvenation of casks and establishing preprepared ex-bourbon casks which have arrived on our shores flat-packed, however not practiced at making the staves from scratch.
The Whyte & Mackay programme is initially centered on sourcing and utilizing wind-fallen Scottish Oak while the brand new saplings start to mature. For instance, at Fettercairn wind fallen Scottish Oak is used to mature the 18 12 months previous single malt, an annual launch that’s a part of their core vary. Maybe much more fascinating is using wind-fallen oak from the neighbouring Fasque Property, together with distillate comprised of Fasque Property barley providing a single Property Origin whisky sooner or later sooner or later. That is made attainable on account of a longtime industrial sawmill up the hill from Fettercairn Distillery that may deal with the extra-large tree trunks required. Supporting the area people in flip improves the native space and breathes life into the historic village of Fettercairn, inside which the whisky sits.
How does Scottish oak affect flavour? As beforehand mentioned in relation to Glenallachie, it’s not so distinctive as to be picked out in a blind tasting but it surely does convey a nice contribution. Nearly any virgin oak can ship an fascinating flavour profile, together with essentially the most profitable younger Tomatin Legacy. These younger whiskies might be reworked with the affect of the virgin wooden. What’s most fascinating for me about Greg Glass’ strategy at Fettercairn is so as to add the Scottish virgin oak end to effectively aged spirit of about 17 years, giving the general 18 12 months age assertion. At this stage the whisky could have stability between youth and extra refined notes that include age, including the layers of Scottish oak is a daring transfer.
Fettercairn 18 Yr Outdated Scottish Oak – Overview
First fill and refill bourbon casks with a end in Scottish Virgin Oak. 46.8% ABV. £175.
Color: Conker pores and skin.
On the nostril: Recent and fruity, intense sweetness, with mild however persistent baking spices, Danish pastry; the fruit is on the ripe facet with cantaloupe melon, guava, and papaya.
Within the mouth: Candy and juicy, adopted quickly by spices. The wooden spice tingles on the entrance of my tongue; floor ginger, white pepper, dried chilli warmth, after which fruit and spices entwined in a warming manner. Banana chilli peppers, a contact of strawberry, spun sugar. The end is the place this has most stability; spice and fruit that drifts into extra vanilla, tannins, butterscotch, and a slight nuttiness.
£175 seems to be a steep value for this, however take into account Glenallachie charged the identical value for a ten 12 months previous dram. I recommend that is premium however truthful. The whisky is deliciously balanced and you should purchase into the fascinating story of Scottish oak casks.
A remaining photograph: the Mercat Cross erected within the mid 1500, with the normal sandstone homes behind. Fettercairn itself dates again over a thousand years to 995. It holds a vital staging level for vacationers and herders that might cross the Cairngorms over the Cairn O’Mount into Royal Deeside. Any go to to the distillery is way improved by taking 45 minutes to additionally take within the village; after all of the distillery, based in 1824, is comparatively current historical past for the realm!