The interaction between spirit and cask is a complex system based on the extraction of molecules from the wood and their interaction with the distillate. Wood constituents migrate into the liquid, whilst other compounds both form and degrade over time. Levels of ethanol, wood lignins, volatile congeners, vanillins and oxygen to name but a few, all have their part to play in forming the final aroma and flavour profile of the resultant whisky. However, when you take all other things as being equal, the size of the cask and its relative surface area when compared to the distillate can also have a dramatic effect – the smaller the cask, the faster the exchange of compounds between spirit and wood.
Glenglassaugh fell silent in 1986. Deemed surplus to requirements and not naturally fitting into (then) owners Highland Distillers blended products, the distillery looked to have gone the way of the dodo. But, a phoenix-like re-emergence in 2008, and subsequent purchases by The BenRiach Distillery Company (2013) and Brown-Forman (2016) have led to Glenglassaugh once again appearing back on the radar. With one important caveat – the distillery didn’t and doesn’t have a wealth of aged stocks.
Sitting back and waiting for spirit to properly mature is not the plat du jour that it used to be – getting younger stocks out of the doors and onto the shelves is now a commercial imperative for many distilleries. And there are a number of ways to achieve this: smaller casks; STRs; super-charged heavy finishes; employing peat and of course utilising virgin oak. Whilst you’ll see ‘new’ oak being used more and more in the production of single malts (oft times without acknowledgement on the label), it’s a maturation tool which seems to divide the crowd. Adding additional oak and sweetness (particularly to younger whiskies) can give them additional depth and flavour beyond their years. But at the same time, it can result in a pile of whiskies which all largely taste the same.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. Frank Herbert, Dune