A 20 year long study published in 2017 indicated that chestnut barrels improved brandy’s quality and complexity, result in higher contents of wood extractable compounds, produce a more evolved colour and create higher antioxidant activity. The paper also noted that chestnut was cheaper than Limousin oak, could be used faster and more frequently, and also might be used to assist with the recovery of the species across Mediterranean countries where forestry had reduced its prevalence. All remarkable observations. And yet whilst chestnut is starting to see wider adoption across a variety of alcohol types, there’s not been a wholesale explosion in its utilisation.
Method and Madness’s Japanese Chestnut Casks release is not the first example of the wood type paired with whiskey. Indeed, the brand itself has previously released a French chestnut finish. However, the most eyebrow raising example I’ve seen to date comes via Teeling - Single pot still brandy PX chestnut cask. I needed to think about that one for a few seconds.
Chestnut has all the anatomical and mechanical traits required to make it suitable for barrel making. It is easily sawn, flexible, possesses hardness and durability and is slightly porous. However, the key difference between chestnut and other woods such as oak is its significantly higher overall total phenolic content – and particularly those of a lower molecular weight. Chestnut has larger concentrations of gallic, vanillic, syringic and ellagic acids alongside eugenol, 4-ethylphenol, and 4-allyl-syringol. Translated – these all either contribute to aroma or flavour development or to perceived aroma and flavour complexity. Irrespective – the structure of Chestnut is fundamentally different to that of oak – ergo maturation within chestnut vessels is going to result in dissimilar outcomes.
Method and Madness’s Japanese Chestnut Cask release takes single pot still whisky matured in both bourbon and sherry casks and finishes it in chestnut for a shy over a year. The release also the two others in the mini-series features Suminagashi (a Japanese print marbling technique using ink over water) themed labels, and it clocks in at an RRP of €95.
Nose: Sweet with candy canes, marzipan and crème patisserie piped into brioche. Shaved chocolate and day-old orange juice follow with considerable herbaceousness – green twigs, stems and roots - reinforced further with a bunch of slapped mint. The addition of water provides a massive vanilla injection alongside custard and freshly baked buns – very much emphasising the initial maturation as opposed to the finishing cask.
Taste: Highly spiced cinnamon rolls – well-dusted with nutmeg. Pear cider, apple candy and sugared almonds provide a fruity/nutty core before mulberries lead into ground chocolate and back palate earthiness. Reduction again accentuates ex-bourbon cues with apple cream and lattice pastry.
Finish: Medium with chopped almonds, café latter and cinnamon dusted orchard fruits.
A well-selected ABV highlights the influence of the chestnut casks with ample verdant ‘green’ notes well-integrated with the combination of bourbon and sherry casks. This equilibrium is lost when the ABV is dialled down – with the expression falling back into more expected territory. Nevertheless, as delivered the Chestnut influence is palpable and its traits tie in nicely to both the distillate and the initial maturation. Different – but not completely left-field.
Review sample provided by Irish Distillers