the whisky lounge - a journal tracking a whisky maturation project involving a newly-acquired oak cask and a significant amount of patience

Saturday, January 5, 2008


I admit that I'm generally the type of person who doesn't spend much time smelling trees. I know conifers have a distinct fragrance, and the smell of autumn leaves is something I can recall from my earliest childhood. But I had always thought about trees as something to look at rather than smell.

The first step in getting my new cask ready to mature some whisky is filling it with hot water. In the process, I realized something: oak has a very lovely fragrance. I must have come across oak in sawdust or freshly-cut form before, but I never remember thinking about what it smelled like. What's interesting to me is that as soon as I dampened the cask, the smell hit my nose and I instantly thought "this smells like wine."

But it doesn't, or at least not entirely - if anything, it's the other way around: wine smells like oak. It's remarkably sweet, and utterly unlike the sharp, tangy scent of a pine or spruce. It makes me think that oak syrup would be as tasty as maple. Nutty. A slight hint of the complexity of cedar, but not nearly as strong and overlaid with the nutty sweetness. If I were better at parsing scents, I'd have a better description for you.

In any case, now that I know what oak smells like, I understand where these flavours and aromas come from when I find them in whisky or wine. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the young bottle matures in its cask.




james said...

Is it French oak or American oak? They're said to be quite distinct, though I've never had the chance to compare them on their own (as in, not already infused into wine).

Ian said...

It's American oak. I gather from reading Wikipedia and elsewhere that American oak is the norm these days for a lot of producers of a lot of beverages. French or Hungarian oak (I don't know what the difference is) is more expensive and rarer, even in Europe.