We know what Sherry is, right? Also commonly known as Jerez and Xerez, these fortified Spanish wines come in a multitude of diverse styles from bone dry to delectably sweet. Beyond that, it’s a complex category and one that the average wine lover may not know so much about. One image that many associate with Sherry however is the sherry cask. The image for many is a large, old wooden cask.
The sherry cask
Sherry wines are often aged in what we call the sherry cask. The most popular use today in making sherry involves Solera ageing, an interesting and perpetual ageing system essential to biological ageing under flor. This is a long process that can last many years if not decades. Learn more about the unique and intricate process of Solera ageing here.
Taste the effects of Solera ageing for yourself with a top Sherry such as Pérez Barquero 1905 Amontillado Solera Fundacional.
Sherry cask ageing in whiskey
The most famous use for the sherry cask these days is probably actually unrelated to wine: ageing whisky (or whiskey). Many distilleries in Scotland and Ireland use old sherry casks in order to age or mature their best single malt whiskies. Using a sherry cask to age whiskey can impart colour (though often not much flavour due to the cask’s old age) into the spirit. As the popularity of whiskey grows, more and more producers are releasing special edition bottles that have been aged in sherry casks to offer drinkers something new and interesting. For a taste, consider something special like Whisky Laphroaig PX Cask. This kind of thing usually marks the end of the sherry cask’s life, however. If you have ever wanted to know the full story, you’re in the right place.
The life of a sherry cask
In headline terms, the sherry cask goes through these steps in its lifetime:
- Like with barrels used for “still light wines” (Sherry is stronger in alcohol and is classified as a “fortified wine”), sherry casks usually come from oak trees. The tree is felled, the wood is aged and then prepared to the cooper to do his work.
- The cooper’s work is skilled and involves constructing the cask and then “toasting” it on a hot flame.
- The finished cask is delivered to the winery where the Sherry wine is produced. As we have said, the Solera method is the most commonly used approach, so the casks are configured in this way and the wine ages for as long as the winemaker sees fit. This could be years or decades.
- When the winemaker has no further use for the sherry cask, he will sell it on the secondary market. Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey have both adopted the sherry cask as an essential tool in making their extra special blends.
- The sherry cask is shipped to a distillery Scotland, Ireland or elsewhere, where it will be used to age a single malt for many subsequent years.
Expand your Sherry knowledge by reading about the city of Jerez here.