The life of a cask

Ever wonder how a cask is made, or why they use them?  It’s quite a process, and the tradition has been around for a very long time.  Many modern winemakers have switched over to metal, but using casks in many opinions is an art, and is essential to properly age and refine a good wine or whiskey.  Here’s an infographic on the life of a cask, from wine to whiskey.  It depicts the process of making barrels, and how they’re used, created by the good people at Wine Folly.

Cask Facts

  • Used wine barrels are in high demand for Scotch and whisky production.
  • Distilleries prefer Oloroso Sherry casks and other dessert wine casks such as Port and Sauternes for aging whisky.
  • Sherry producers use larger casks called Hogsheads (250 L) and Butts (500 L).
  • Some distilleries own forests in America where they source Quercus alba (white oak) to produce casks.
  • Distilleries often loan unused casks to Sherry producers to ‘season’ them.

A Single malt Scotch cask ages 3-40+ years. A single cask may be used for up to 70 years.

The Life of a Cask From Wine to Whisky

  1. An oak tree is cut down. Typically one tree is used to produce 2 standard 220 L (64 gals) barrels. The most popular oak choices are French and American oak although Hungarian and Russian oak can also be found.
  2. Building the cask. Couplers (cask-makers) build casks without glue.
  3. Toasting the oak. Heavy toast adds more vanilla and butter flavors.
  4. The wine aged in new barrels for 3-30+ years. Sherry production uses the ‘solera’ system, where new wine is placed in a sequential barrel chain. Wine is bottled from the last barrel in the solera and topped with the wine from the next sequential barrel. A 30-year solera can have 30 barrels.
  5. Used barrels are in high demand from Sherry producers. Whisky producers prefer barrels from dessert wines such as Sherry, Port, and Sauternes. The most popular barrels for whisky production are from Oloroso Sherry barrels, a style of aged Sherry.
  6. From Sherry to Whisky. Sherry producers originally used a cask for up to 30 years. Today it’s more common to use a cask for 18-24 months before shipping it to Scotland.
  7. A Single malt Scotch cask ages 3-40+ years. A single cask may be used for up to 70 years.

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