Moments of Precision
Part 2: Facing the flame: Inside the cooperages in Jerez, Spain
Not every journey involves a trial by fire, yet this is what all our oak casks endure during their journey to our distillery. Why? Because through fire comes flavour. In fact, up to 80 percent of The Macallan’s character comes from our extraordinary casks.
The wood for these casks travels thousands of miles to face the flames. Once it’s been air dried for a year where it was felled, and then another year after being cut into staves in Jerez, Spain, the next stage of the journey readies it to meet the heat of fire.
The craft of the cooper (the name given to professional cask makers) is highly skilled and respected. This step of the cask production is the most dramatic part of the whole whisky-making process. Steeped in tradition and often in generations of experience, the coopers we partner with in Jerez are passionate about their work, and pride themselves on providing consistently excellent casks for our spirits. While it is just one element of the process, the time with the cooper has a direct impact on the end result, and is part of why we choose to invest ten times more in our casks than any other distillery in existence.
The ‘standing of the casks’ is a unique process where the staves are carved and sanded into a rough form held in place by metal hoops, before meeting the fire that helps to mould the barrel.
Some things cave under intense pressure, while for others their true worth is revealed through the trial. Casks require heating to be crafted into shape, and to prove that they are worthy of their call. The level of heat treatment has a significant impact on the flavours created in the wood. In the bourbon industry the cask is heated quickly and it ignites, burning the surface of the wood to create a ‘char’. As well as adding flavour and colour, char can remove harsher, unwanted flavours from the spirit, almost acting as a filter between the wood and the spirit inside. For sherry and wine cask production the cask is toasted at a lower temperature for longer. This develops a larger pool of complex characters that can be passed on, over time to The Macallan spirit.
TOASTING & CHARRING
Toasting provides sweeter, more ‘toasty’ notes and candyfloss flavours.
TOASTING – SHERRY CASKS
CHARRING – EX-BOURBON
We only use charring for ex-bourbon casks, helping create notes of toffee and vanilla.
At The Macallan, the only casks that are charred are ex-bourbon casks maturing whisky that will be selected for our Triple Cask Matured spirits. The temperature and timing of the heat that is expertly applied to these oak casks can significantly influence the flavours which are present in the final whisky. Only once the casks pass the rigorous toasting and sounding test, and are approved by our Master of Wood Stuart MacPherson, do they receive the stamp of approval. They are then ready to be filled with Oloroso sherry and stored at the bodegas (wine cellars) for the next stage of the journey.