This page is dedicated to everything I have learned about the influence of Sherry on Sherry matured Whisky. I will add everything I learned about Sherry and Whisky here, because, honestly, my blog is a mess when it comes to grouping Sherry related information!
First a small disclaimer: This page is not meant as the Definitive Overview of everything you ever wanted to know about Sherry influences on Whisky. It is an overview of my current “Knowledge” regarding this topic. I apologise to Sherry Aficionado’s who know Sherry very much better than I ever will. If you can help me along my path, than please contact me. Thanks!
Now for some Sherry KnowHow. I will start with the most important thing I learned about Sherry.
More than one name for Sherry
Sherry can be written as Jerez, Xérès or Sherry.
Where does Sherry come from?
Sherry comes from Spain. A particular region in Spain to be precise around the Town of Jerez de la Frontera. If you click on the link you should get the a google maps page.
There is more than one types of Sherry
Maybe you did not know this, but there are more than one kinds of Sherry. The definitions or names of the kinds of Sherry that are protected in European Law, COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 607/2009 are:
- Criaderas y Soleras
- Palo Cortado
You will notice that there are eight types of “Sherry”. You will also notice that Pedro Ximenez is not categorised as a “Sherry”. Yes, I frowned too! This doesn’t mean that a Sherry made from the Pedro Ximenez grape cannot be called a Sherry.
There are many kinds of Sherry:
- VINOS GENEROSOS, Dry Sherry Wines.
- VINOS GENEROSOS DE LICOR, Blended Sherry.
- DULCES NATURALES, Natural Sweet Sherry Wines.
“Sherry” as a tasting note
If there are eight different kind of “Sherry’s”, a tasting note of “Sherry” is about as useless as saying you “own a Car”. People will want to know which brand of car, which type, the engine, etc, etc. Saying you own a car can be true but the information you give is useless, depending on the context.
In a Whisky Review, where tasting notes are described, it may be acceptable to just mention “Sherry” as a note if the type of sherry is on the label. One can then assume the reviewer is referring to the Fruity Sweetness of a PX or the bone-dry notes of an Oloroso.
I have written multiple blogposts in the past detailing how Sherry is made. I have linked them in the texts below.
The “Sweetness” of Sherry …
The “sherry sweetness” …. oh yes, how “sweet” is this sherry matured dram! Loads of tasting notes of “oloroso sherry” describe the “Sherry Sweetness”.
I used to not know better. Now I do.
PX Sherry is actually very sweet. Some of this sugar content will be left in the grain of the wood as it is filled with new make Spirit from the whisky industry. Therefor I am sure that some will transfer in the final dram.
Oloroso Sherry on the other hand has virtually NO sugar in it, by LAW. So just to make something clear. The “Sweetness” of an Oloroso Sherry matured Whisky DOES NOT come from the Sherry. It comes from the Cask. This is where this page switches from Sherry to Bourbon. Sorta.
I made some effort to drink multiple Sherry’s just to know the oloroso sherry is indeed dry and PX is very sweet. I added some blogposts about it in the list below.
- Tasting different kinds of Sherry
- PX Sherry does not have to suck
- I actually have drunk Oloroso Sherry
What do Bourbon and Sherry have in common?
Bourbon and Sherry have more in common than I first expected. Why? Because Sherry making companies also found out that buying a American Oak barrel is cheaper than buying a European Oak barrel.
Since more and more Sherry Casks are made from American oak this means more and more of the same influence that makes Bourbon Bourbon will transfer to Scotch whisky. In a sense. But not always. Sorta. Let me explain.
An American Oak Cask can be sold to a Bourbon maker. Which fills it up with high ABV spirit. Then it is sold to Scotland and refilled with high ABV spirit. So a first fill Scotch Whisky cask had been filled with high ABV spirit twice.
The Sherry Cask is also used twice (actually three times, see below) but the first time “only” at an ABV of 20%. Meaning that all the congeners that ONLY get into the whisky due to the 60% plus ABV will still be in there. Sorta.
Meaning, a ex sherry cask will ALSO give “bourbon-like” notes to a Scotch, if not used in an actuall sherry solera system, but when a Sherry Transport Cask or Sherry Seasoned Cask is used. It gets complicated since “Sherry Casks” come in multiple types.
- a “Solera Sherry” Cask,
- a “Sherry Transport” Cask,
- a “Sherry Seasoned” Cask,
- a “Remade Sherry” Cask”.
I made some blogs about how I see all this below.
- Is “Sherry” matured “Whisky” equal to “Bourbon”?
- “Sherry” Matured is “Bourbon” Matured, only just a bit less
- Sherry cask influence…. update
- Maturation experiment, 14th May Update
- The not so uniform “Oloroso Sherry” Cask
The colour of Sherry
The colour of Sherry can be as pale as “white wine”. This is true for a “Fino” type Sherry. On the other hand a “PX” can have a brown-orange-reddish kinda colour, just like a bourbon does. I like adding little teasers like that because it ties into the bourbon origins of tasting notes that I am trying to make.
I had been reading about wines and how wine have Tannins in them. This taught me that some tannins are hydro-soluble (soluble in low ABV water ethanol mixtures) and others are not. Other Tannins turn out to be soluble only in high ABV water ethanol mixtures. Tannins like vanillin. Fun fact, vanillin is a Phenol. Oh the fun of Chemistry.
Whisky is a high ABV water ethanol mixture as it is put in the cask. Wine is a Low ABV water-ethanol mixture. I thought this low ABV water-ethanol mixture must be true for Sherry as well since Sherry is a fortified wine.
So I dove into Tannins and this explained to me where the colour of a Wine comes from. Later I learned that Sherry makers do their very best to avoid tannins. When I read this about Wine and Sherry I broke through a personal paradigm and realised that since Wine gets some of its colour from the cask, this is also true for Whisky. No-brainer really. I dove into this and I added some insights in what makes the colour of Whisky and Wine in the blog posts below.
Was what I just learned actually true? Are there really tannins in Sherry? I found out that tannins are unwanted in Fino Sherry. So what I said just now is not actually true for Sherry. Confusing? Yes! Sherry gets it’s colour from Oxidation only.
So what is a Sherry Butt?
Some one-liners to help define what a Sherry Butt is. I included links to sources, including YouTube, in the texts below.
- A Sherry Butt is a wooden container. The video under the “Sherry” link explains what Sherry is short. Pages upon Pages of information can be found on dedicated Sherry websites. These offer the best info on what Sherry Actually is. I do try to avoid Whisky blogs informing me about “Sherry”. Why? Because I find lots of the information given is outright wrong. Hence the need for me to find out for myself and the need for this page. Am I right? Probably not 😉 …
- A “Butt” is a unit of measure for Volume. Just like a Dram or a Litre or a Gallon is.
- Wooden cask replaced the “amphora” as principle container for wines ages ago.
- The type of wood used for a Sherry Butt is Oak. This is mostly because of the woodworking and watertightness properties.
- The type of Oak used is either European oak (Robur and Petraea) and one type of American oak (Alba). Some fun information about Spanish Oak and American White Oak can be found in the links.
- The harvest of Spanish Oak is highly regulated by Spanish Forestry Regulations and therefor availability is limited. Spanish Oak cannot be replanted by mankind, but it has to grow all by itself. The Tree has to make the babies so to speak.
- The production process of a wooden container in a Spanish Cooperage is less mechanised than the production process of American Cooperages. This is mostly true and due to the differences in quantities produced for the Bourbon Industry which does not economically allow for a one cooper per barrel process. Thank you Model T Ford for the assembly lines. Yes, there are mechanised Cooperages like in the USA in Europe too. Oh the confusion!
- These difference in availability of Spanish (European) Oak and the difference production process in a Spanish Cooperage results in higher production cost per container. Therefor a Whisky maker will probably, but not always, look for the purchase of the most cost-effective wooden container. This used to be the “Sherry Transport Barrel” and now, to this day, the “Ex bourbon Cask”.
- Before holding Sherry an actual Sherry Butt will first hold another wine to remove tannins from the wood. Tannins are unwanted as a source of congeners in most Sherry’s (but not all?). There goes my earlier text about the colour of Sherry being due to tannins. Turns out oxidation is the primary driver for an Oloroso. And the lack of colour in a Fino Sherry is due to “Flor” and the lack of “oxidation”.
“Unlike makers of table wine, Sherry producers make strenuous efforts to avoid wood flavours in the wine. New barrels are no use for Sherry as they give off unwanted tannins and woody flavours. Once a new butt has been made it will be used for up to 10 years to ferment wine before it will be deemed suitable for ageing Sherry, especially the more delicate Fino or Manzanilla. It might then be in use for a century or more and will inevitably need repair at some time. If a stave breaks it will be replaced by an old one as a new one would affect the flavour of the wine. Bodegas keep stocks of old staves and hoops for just this purpose. Butts are painted black using a special inert paint, and this makes it much easier to spot a leak.”
Source: Instagram of “SherrywinesJerez“, 2018
- A “butt” is a measure of volume for 500L. But also smaller “butts” are made.
- A “Sherry Transport Cask” is not a “Sherry Cask”. Although, this is the “Sherry Cask” really old people in the Scottish Whisky Industry imply when they say “Sherry Cask”. You know people over 60 who actually consciously lived in the 1970’s. When they were like 25+ Years old in 1970 and first started drinking Whisky made in 1958. (1970-1958=12 yo)
- A “Sherry Seasoned Cask” is not a “sherry Cask”. Although, this is the casks used by i.e Highland Park and Macallan for maturing their “Sherry Matured” Whisky (See quotes below) and these are being sold to you as such.
“We’re unashamedly obsessed with casks. It starts with trees – European and American oak – carefully selected and cut into staves at precisely 45° to make it hard for any spirit to escape. Exactly how our Viking ancestors made their longships watertight! We ship the staves to Jerez in southern Spain where they’re made into casks, filled with Oloroso Sherry and left to mature for around two years before being emptied and shipped back to Orkney to be refilled with our whisky. Expensive yes, but with casks contributing up to 80% of our whisky’s final flavour, and all of its natural colour, it’s worth every penny.”
Source: Highland Park Website, 2018
Macallan uses “Sherry Seasoned” casks, which according to Nicolas Villalon, was actually the “original sherry cask” as he puts it. Thanks to the Scotch Test Dummies 12 Hours of Boom 2018 we get an excellent explanation by Macallan themselves.
“The Macallan imports the majority of all new sherry seasoned oak casks into Scotland from Spain to mature scotch whisky. These are the most expensive of all the cask types used to mature scotch whisky.”
Source: Macallen Website, 2018
- This means the oak used for these “seasoned” casks DO (possibly) contain the caramels, vanillin’s and tannins from the wood that Sherry makers do their best to avoid! This is fine as long as we know.
- A “Rebuild Sherry Cask” is not a “Sherry Cask”. These Casks used to be Sherry Casks, but got remade into smaller Casks, recharged and all.
- A cask/butt that comes from Jerez and has had Sherry in it for ages is the actual “Sherry Cask”. That would have held Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado, etc. etc. Casks like the casks in the video below.
- A true “Solera Casks” spends way more than two years of it’s life in the Solera system of ageing Sherry. It could have spend over 50, hell 100, years in the Solera System before it eventually gets sold. Which it hardly ever does!
- So a TRUE “Solera sherry” Casks is a very rare thing in the Whisky Industry indeed.
If this is true all than maybe the “seasoned” Sherry Cask will be the new baseline for when we whisky drinkers mention a “Sherry Casks” in due time? Replacing “Sherry Transport Casks” as the older baseline? But never replacing “Actual Sherry Casks” which I have never tasted … I think … unless Laddiemp3 was aged in actual sherry casks.
Finally a link to a document written by a Whisky Blogger Whiskynotes who has written a very excellent text about all of this. I only found it when I had finished the last sentence containing the link to Laddiemp3.
For all information about everything you ever wanted to know about Sherry visit: https://www.sherry.wine/
Thank you Ruben from Sherrynotes.com for sending me feedback on the content of this page.
Paxarette and Whisky
So I should go into Paxarette and Whisky, but I will not for now. I need to find out more before I detail it to myself. I should look at this page, E-pestle 2007/50 on the malt maniac website and some other pages.