Towards the tail-end of 2017 I read a report from Majestic Wine highlighting that the sales of dry sherry had increased by over 25% in a 12 month period. Taken in isolation this factoid might sounds like an industry undergoing some form of modern renaissance - however when you consider that overall bottle sales had fallen to 10m in the UK in 2015 (down from 22m just a decade earlier) you start to realise that the days of supping Bristol Cream and Harvey’s before dinner are now a generation behind us. Nevertheless, despite some signs that drier, premium varieties (such a fino and manzanilla) are crawling back out of the doldrums, there are still some common misconceptions that link the fortunes of the sherry industry directly into those of whisky.
Whisky is packed full of romantic notions – only a few of them are grounded in modern reality. A common fallacy I often hear is that the price of sherried whisky has become exponentially higher as a direct result of less folks drinking sherry, ergo there being less sherry casks available. Alas, whilst this sounds simple, it’s far from the truth of it.
When you purchase a sherry-influence whisky, its origins do not (now) truly derive from the traditional Jerez-based sherry industry. The whisky industry do not purchase casks that have been created for the purpose of maturing sherry inside them – they buy seasoned ‘transport casks’ that has been specifically tailored for the requirements of whisky maturation. Seasoned casks are filled with sherry wine for around 18 months and then (after a limited number of reuses) discarded – sometimes to produce vinegar.
The liquid cannot legally be sold as sherry, nor would you particularly fancy drinking it anyhow. However, the seasoning period influences the oak and provides a basis on which distillers can refill the barrel with their new make spirit. As such, it’s a mistake to tie the current fortunes of the sherry industry directly into those of the whisky world – a massive resurgence in sherry drinking would not lead to an abundance of spare casks ripe for whisky maturation. Simply put, the production of seasoned casks is a separate business to the production of sherry. If I’ve popped any of your starry-eyed bubbles – sorry – not sorry.
Today’s sherried offering comes courtesy of Glen Moray in the form of an 11 year old bottled for the 2018 Spirit of Speyside Festival. Initially laid down in 2007 in a 1st fill ex-bourbon cask, it was then re-racked into an oloroso sherry butt for a very decent 3 years and 10 months of finishing. The end result was bottled at 56.3% ABV and offered as an exclusive hand bottling for visitors to the distillery during last year’s Festival. If you’re ever in the Elgin area I strongly recommend you pay a visit to the distillery – not only are the Moray team quite lovely, but there’s virtually always a hand fill (and sometimes several) option available and they’re always very keenly priced.
Nose: A backdrop of brown sugars and gingerbread men is enlivened by tingly cinnamon and nutmeg spicing. Plenty of underlying fruitiness here – red berries, orange juice and the expected assortment of dried goods – raisins, sultanas etc. A touch of patience is a real virtue here – resting offers an expansion of aromas with freshly made mocha, coffee and walnut cake and a growing chilli pepper piquancy. There is some heady alcohol here, so you might find dilution called for –it adds tropical notes of guava and pineapple, aromatic tobacco leaf and Peruvian chocolate.
Taste: Dry oloroso is plat du jour – nut-strewn (walnut) fruit loaf and demerara sugar are joined by caramel sauce and cinder toffee. Stewed plums and figs have a ripe tropical overlay – cocoa powder dusted pineapple chunks. As with the nose, the alcohol prickles – it rapidly develops an exceptionally dry characteristic – almost moisture-sucking and amalgamated with more than a good shake of strong black pepper. Soft sherry meets a scorpion’s tail of dry spice. Reduction is well advised here, but highly gratifying – not only soothing and smoothing, but bringing out a creamy dulce de leche character alongside nuts, leather and a fizzing oakiness.
Finish: Quite long with pokey black pepper spicing and dry, semi-sour fruits.
This sherry cask finished Glen Moray might require some perseverance, but it offers a rewarding experience by return. For the most part, vibrancy and expressiveness are delivered from the spirit not from the cask – with the sherry influence blanketing the development with a combination of sweetness and deepness. Out of the bottle I found it a little too potent and peppered, but once reduced discovered a creamy, luxuriant mouthfeel and a much more well-adjusted composure.
With thanks to Alistair (@SpiritAndWood )