Highland Flings



A few years ago Glengoyne distillery released their Scottish oak finish matured single malt. This was a nice piece of marketing and, critically, the product was very good. It is never likely that there will be swathes of the great Scottish oak forests toppling to keep up with demand as commercially it is rather an expensive process but there is a true ring of Scottish provenance about it. Perhaps I’m having a Braveheart moment!

The Scottish whisky industry is remarkably dynamic in its ability to stimulate drinkers with innovative offerings and particularly the increasing array of wood finished whiskies. I have no problem with these as long as the final product tastes good – and in the main it does. I have, however, tasted some whiskies in recent years that boasted connections to exotic wine or other casks and have found little or nothing relevant in the flavour. Very often a synthetic vein ran through the spirit that did not integrate well.

My main concern is that the procedure, heralded as enhancement, is sometimes being used to dress-up immature or relatively characterless spirit. It is quite simple – put good spirit into good wood for the right length of time and you get good whisky! My preference is for good old fashioned malt whisky that has spent all of its life in a monogamous relationship with one cask. At least you know what you are getting. Does it really have to run off with a younger cask for a six month fling?

My other concern is that often the type of finishing wood used is promoted with seemingly more importance than the actual whisky. Who is the boss in this relationship?

Long live experimentation and diversity but the industry must be careful not to damage a hard-earned reputation for quality with contrived makeovers.