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WOOD, SPIRIT OR ENVIRONMENT

What Determines Final Product Quality? W R I TT E N BY PAU L H U G H E S , P H . D .

A question commonly posed by distillers and consumers alike is, “What are the relative contributions of wood and spirit to the final quality of a matured product?” To be fair, there is some sophistry here, not least as to what the category of “matured product” is (e.g., whiskey or brandy or tequila?), and whether there is a blending operation involved to create the final brand. For the purposes of this article though, I will restrict the discussion to whiskeys. It should be noted here that I do not intend to wade into the debate about an exact percentage contribution of each to final whiskey quality, for the simple reason that I do not think that this can be anything other than a subjective answer. A car cannot

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function without wheels or an engine, it needs both. So both wood and spirit are needed to create what we call whiskey. Before I move on though, if you are tempted to put numbers to this, bear in mind that there is a third factor that needs to be considered — that of the local environment. It is well known that factors such as local temperatures and temperature cycling, humidity, air changes per hour in the warehouse, and the design and construction of warehouses all contribute to variations in the trajectory of in-cask spirit maturation. Indeed, recognition of this is reflected in the typical maturation conditions that prevail in the UK and the U.S. The former generally (but not always) aim for an initial 63.5 percent ABV at cask-fill, WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM

Profile for Artisan Spirit Magazine

Artisan Spirit: Winter 2016  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

Artisan Spirit: Winter 2016  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.