Focus On Whisky Finishing

'Secondary maturation' is the technical term for whisky finishing The Balvenie was one of the first distilleries to use finishing Both herring and Tabasco barrels have been used to finish whisky There is no minimum/maximum time period for finishing whisky
Glenmorangie was the first to finish whisky in sweet Sauternes wine casks Oloroso Sherry is the most common type of cask used to finish whisky About 3% of the cask's previous contents will remain in the wood after it is emptied Any bourbon that undergoes finishing must declare the type of cask used on the label
Bourbon casks add notes of toffee and vanilla
Bourbon casks add notes of toffee and vanilla

What is it?

Whisky finishing is a relatively modern phenomenon whereby a distiller transfers their whisky from one type of cask into another. This 'secondary maturation' adds complexity to the whisky, depending on the type of cask used. The most common type used are sherry casks, which typically add rich notes of dried fruit and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, a great contrast to the vanilla and toffee notes from ex-bourbon casks. Despite this, all manner of casks can and have been used to finish whisky, including red wine, port, Cognac, rum and even fish barrels!

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A multitude of casks types have been used for whisky finishing
Balvenie was one of the first distilleries to use whisky finishing
Whisky finishing came to prominence in the 1980s

Who Does It?

Distillers all over the world finish their whiskies in alternative casks, but the phenomenon only really drew attention from the 1980s onwards, when producers such as Balvenie began giving their bourbon-cask-matured whiskies a second maturation in ex-sherry barrels. Other distillers soon followed, including Glenmorangie, but now the list of producers is huge.

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Whisky finishing came to prominence in the 1980s
There is no set time period for whisky finishing
There is no set time period for whisky finishing

How it's done

Although whisky finishing is now commonplace, the rules about how to do it are rather sketchy. For example, although the typical finishing period is between six months and two years, there is no minimum or maximum time laid down by the authorities. About 3% of the barrel's previous contents remains in the wood after being emptied, but then integrates with the whisky as the wood 'breathes' during its second maturation.

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About 3% of the cask's previous contents remain in the cask after being emptied
Map showing where whisky distilleries source their barrels Map showing where whisky distilleries source their barrels Map showing where whisky distilleries source their barrels