Sherried Malts: Barrels of Distinction

Sherry casks are pricey but offer malt whisky another dimension. Gavin D Smith reports

WHEN IAN MACLEOD DISTILLERS decided to relaunch Tamdhu single malt after purchasing the mothballed Speyside distillery from the Edrington Group in 2011 it needed to do something that would make this previously ultra-low key brand stand out from the crowd. It settled on some distinctive packaging options, but when it came to the liquid itself it struck gold.

As managing director Leonard Russell says: “We discovered that, for the past 10 years, Edrington had been using sherry casks for maturation of Tamdhu and we inherited a rich vein of the best sherry casks up to 10 years old. 

“The whole project is indescribably exciting for us and we are investing heavily in good sherry casks for Tamdhu in the future. A high percentage of the Edrington stock is in first-fill sherry casks, and we will continue that policy.”

The ‘standard’ version of the ‘new’ Tamdhu is a 10-year-old, matured in a mix of first-fill and refill ex-sherry casks, although a limited edition 10-year-old has also been released, comprising spirit from just two first-fill oloroso sherry casks.

It seems that, when it comes to offering a distinctive single malt with a strong perception of luxury, the use of sherry wood still works its magic, as evidenced by the Macallan’s position as the third-bestselling malt in the world behind Glenfiddich and the Glenlivet in terms of volume, and the second-best in respect of value.

Speaking of leading emerging markets, Ken Grier, director of malts for the Edrington Group, owner of the Macallan, notes: “Both Russia and China have experienced strong relative growth in terms of percentage, up 320% and 285% respectively in the past five years – the strongest growth for any one brand in these countries.”

The Macallan is currently in the process of rolling out its 1824 Series across 54 markets, and the series – comprising Gold (UK only), Amber, Sienna and Ruby, plus the ultra-premium ‘M’ – represents a departure from brand tradition by not offering age statements. 

According to Ken Grier: “The 1824 Series brings together two of the most important elements of the Macallan – natural colour and sherry casks. Together these create a signature Macallan character, embracing all the defining elements which have made it one of the world’s truly great single malt whiskies.

“The new range has been driven by colour first and foremost with the character derived from the colour. This meant looking at a broad range of casks which provided a specific colour, then working with the character these casks delivered. Sherry-seasoned oak casks have been at the heart of the Macallan since its inception in 1824. This range is 100% matured in sherry casks crafted from American and European oak.”

Despite The Macallan’s international success, there are relatively few other Scotch single malts which place such a strong emphasis on maturation in former sherry casks, though those that do include some of the ‘great’ names of whisky, such as Highland Park, Aberlour, Glenfarclas, The Glendronach and The Dalmore.