It’s well know fact that Scotch whisky has to be matured in oak barrels. But it’s an interesting story on how sherry butts came to be used. (By the way, a ‘butt’ is a 500 liter barrel).
Winemakers in Spain often joke that they are on the lookout for Scotsmen who are trying to pinch butts. So just how did Scotch whisky come to use sherry butts so much?
In the 19th and start of the 20th century drinks, wines, rum, sherry, port and Madeira was shipped over to the UK in large barrels. The Scots would then buy the empty barrels and then use them to mature their whiskies. This resulted in very smooth single malt whiskies.
A range of sherry-finished whiskies are on sale at the Whisky Exchange.
In fact in 1864 William Sanderson (founder of the famous Vat 69 blended Scotch whisky) said: „it is well-known that whisky stored in sherry casks soon acquires a mellow softness which it does not get when put into new casks”.
However in the early 70s this changed when a new law came into force requiring that sherry be shipped in bottles, not butts. This wasn’t good news for many distillers. For example Glenfarclas single malt whisky uses only Oloroso or Fino sherry butts. To solve the problem Scotch whisky distillers travelled to Jerez to purchase sherry butts.
The problem then faced was that sherry is also matured in oak barrels and they are not in plentiful supply. Distillers were then forced to work out a way to obtain the necessary wood. The solution was that Scotch whisky distillers started to purchase their own butts and then loan them to sherry producers. The butts are then seasoned to the whisky producers requirements.
Many whisky distillers in the Highland region of Scotch whisky production use sherry butts to either mature or finish off maturing whisky.
So thus starts the interesting journey of sherry butts. After the whisky distillers are finished with them they are then sold on to rum producers.
So when asked – what are your favourite kind of butts? Many people in Scotland will answer – sherry butts.