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12 Jul 2023

Whisky Casks and their Role in Whisky Making at Lochranza Distillery

Whisky is one of the most popular spirits in the world, enjoyed by connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. But have you ever wondered why whisky is aged in wooden casks? In this article, we'll explore the history and importance of casks in whisky making, as well as the different types of casks used and how they influence the flavour of whisky.
We'll also take a closer look at the casks used at Lochranza Distillery, where we make our delicious Arran Single Malt, and how the choice of Bourbon, Sherry, Port or Wine cask contributes to the unique flavour profile of our single malts. 

The History of Casks in Whisky Making

The practice of ageing the Scottish national drink in wooden casks dates back centuries. In the early days of whisky making, casks were used primarily as a means of transportation, allowing distillers and blenders to move their products from one place to another. Over time, it was discovered that casks had a significant impact on the flavour and quality of the whisky. The wood of the casks imparted unique tastes and aromas to the spirit as well, and the ageing process helped to smooth out the harshness of younger drams.

In the early days of whisky making, distillers used whatever casks they could find, including those that had previously held wine, sherry, or other spirits. This practice continues to this day.

The Types of Casks Used in Whisky Making

There are several types of casks used in whisky making, each with its own unique properties and characteristics.

Bourbon Casks

Bourbon barrelsare the most common type of cask used in whisky making. These are made from American white oak and are used to age bourbon whiskey before being shipped to distilleries and wineries around the world. The Quercus alba oak imparts vanilla and caramel flavours to the whisky, while the charring of the cask can also create a more toasted flavour. It’s in these casks, along with a selection of fresh Oloroso  sherry hogsheads, that you’ll find our classic 10-year-old single malt scotch whisky gently matures to perfection.

Sherry Casks

Sherry Hogsheads are traditionally made from European oak (but there are also some made from American Oak) and are used to age fortified Spanish wine before being used to age whisky. The Quercus robur oak imparts rich and nutty flavours, with notes of dried fruits and spices. Our fine selection of sherry casks gives rise to The Bodega! An exquisite addition to our range, representing the epitome of luxury and elegance with its cask strength complex character. 

Port Casks

Port Pipes casks are largely made from European oak (again, some are made from American Oak) and are used to age fortified Portuguese wine before being used to age whisky. Port pipes impart flavours of red fruits, dark chocolate and berries to the whisky, with a subtle sweetness and a hint of tannins. To create our charmingly rich Port Cask Finish, the Arran Single Malt spends the last months of its life in Port casks sourced from an artisan producer, resulting in a remarkable whisky that is an ideal companion to cheese or a delightful after-dinner dram.

Wine Casks

Wine casks can be made from a variety of oak. The wood imparts unique flavours to the whisky, depending on the type of white or red wine that was previously stored in the cask. Our Amarone whisky starts life in traditional American oak barrels before being finished in red wine casks from an esteemed Amarone producer in Italy's Veneto region. Merging the opulence of Italian wine with the intricate and lively character of this Single Malt, promising a truly enjoyable and cherished experience with every sip.

Quarter Casks

A quarter cask is a fascinating smaller-sized cask that plays a significant role in whisky ageing. With a capacity of around 125 litres, it's like the little sibling of the regular whisky barrel. But don't let its size fool you—quarter casks bring a unique charm to the maturation process.

What makes quarter casks so intriguing is their ability to accentuate the whisky's interaction with the wood. With less liquid inside, the whisky has more contact with the wood, leading to faster extraction of flavours. This intensity of flavours produces a unique full-bodied expression of Arran Single Malt combining power and finesse in a dream full of rich vanilla sweetness and bold peppery spice. We call it The Bothy.

The Importance of Cask Management

Cask management is a critical component of whisky making, and the team at Locranza distillery takes this responsibility very seriously. Our Distillery Manager, together with the Warehouse Team, use their own finely tuned senses to determine when the whisky has reached the optimal age and flavour profile. Only then he cask is emptied and bottled.

In addition to monitoring the ageing process, the team at Locranza is also responsible for looking after every barrel, hogshead, butt, pipe and more. The casks are carefully inspected and repaired as necessary to ensure that they are in optimal condition for ageing whisky.

Experience the Magic of Arran Whisky - Shop the Range Today!

If you're a whisky enthusiast or simply looking for an exceptional dram to savour, we encourage you to visit the Arran Whisky shop and explore the range of award-winning whiskies on offer. Whether you prefer the rich vanilla sweetness of our 10 Year Old Single Malt or the Sherry Cask aged ‘The Bodega’, you're sure to find a whisky that perfectly suits your taste.

Why not treat yourself or a loved one to a bottle of Arran whisky today? Visit our shop to discover the magic of this unique and exceptional spirit.