When is a Finish not a Finish? When it's Rested.
I am not generally a huge fan of finished whiskies, I tend to find that often the balance is not quite right, or the whisky and whatever liquid was in the secondary cask clash and don’t really come together, but almost remain as two separate drinks.
What can also happen is the secondary cask can almost sit on top of the whisky, so say it is a sherry finish the sherry can almost cloak the whisky so that you can’t get at it and all you taste is the sherry. The subtleties of the distillery character are lost.
That said, when given time to fully integrate, cask finishes can be amazing - they can perk up tired or disappointing whiskies and they can add more body and depth and a change in characteristic to take a whisky in a different direction - they just need to be handled with care in my book.
As an independent bottler we want the distillery character to shine through - yes I love a sherried whisky, sometimes you just want a sherry bomb that smacks you in the face, just like sometimes you want an assault of peat - but if that masks the distillery character then, although it can be a great drink, is it a great whisky? Can you tell if it is a Balmenach, Dailuaine, Inchgower, Imperial etc etc? No you can not. As an Independent bottler I believe it is our job to offer you a taste of the distillery character as often as we can and not just mask things behind cask influence.
“HYPOCRITE” - I can hear you all shouting at your computer screens - Okay your phones - probably no one but me looks things up on a computer anymore. Of our first 6 casks, including the crowdfunder, 2 technically are finishes. What is that all about?
The story of our Mannochmore is a perfect illustration, and shows how serendipity can play a part in whisky (and I don’t just mean in an Ardbeg/Glen Moray type of way) As we were looking through a list of available casks I saw a 2008 Mannochmore in a Hogshead that was at a decent price. Knowing Mannochmore from around that age can be good I asked for a sample.
We got the sample and loved it and then placed an order for the cask, only to be told that there was a mistake on the price list, that in fact it wasn’t a hogshead, it was actually two hogsheads married together and put into a brandy butt for 3 months. (Also as there was double the spirit, it was double the price). We thought about it and decided ‘we love the whisky, let’s go for it’ - even if bottling 663 bottles of Mannochmore for a first release may be a bit mental!
Had the cask list stated it had only been in a brandy butt for 3 months I would have dismissed it and not ordered a sample. I am now very glad we did get that sample - I think for Kate the Mannochmore is possibly her highlight of the first release and I am equally happy with it. I definitely want to have a few bottles stashed away for a rainy day.
I will probably now be more forgiving for short term re-rackings when being offered samples in the future - I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!
I felt uneasy about calling 3 months a finish - I didn’t want to call it a finish, but at the same time wanted to be as transparent as possible. That is why we used the term “rested” for 3 months in the Brandy Butt. In my opinion, the brandy butt probably has added some sweetness and a richer mouthfeel to the whisky, although I can’t prove this as I hadn’t tried it prior to vatting. The way I see it the brandy butt was more used for a marrying cask rather than a finish, so I felt the use of the term rested was more appropriate than to term it as a finish. I am sure I have nicked this term from gin but it is a term I like and am sure I will use again.
I was asked yesterday by Mark Gillespie of Whiskycast what I would deem as finished and not rested? To be honest I don’t know the answer, for me it will be more about how much the secondary cask has added to the whisky, how much presence the Wine/ Sherry/ Port/ Tomato Sauce cask adds to the final whisky.
So I guess the answer is there is no real time line for my made up definition, it is not like I will say 3 months is “rested” but 3 months and 4 days is a finish. When it comes to deciding what term we use for re-racked whiskies I guess the Finish line will always be a moving target.