When Glen Moray released this cider cask project in 2018, it was an industry first for Scotch in the modern age. I say modern, because the dusty ledgers of old blenders and independents from bygone eras showcase a wide assortment of casks being utilised. Essentially, if it was wood and watertight, then it was utilised in some form and any unexpected results were blended out of the equation. Arguably a bit like Irish whiskey as we know it today.
So, cider casks in whisky are not anything new whatsoever. However, this was the first openly touted release in what was a grey area at the time. From what I understand, because the type of cask wasn’t outlawed specifically, then it was in 2018 deemed to be worthy of the whisky title after an enterprising approach from Glen Moray. As you may know, that all changed in June 2019, when the Scotch Whisky Association published new guidelines, which I’ve quoted below for your convenience:
‘Scotch Whisky can only be matured or finished in new oak casks or oak casks which were previously used to mature wine, beer/ale or spirits but not if those casks were previously used to mature
• wine, beer/ale or spirit produced from, or made with, stone fruits
• beer/ale which has had fruit, flavouring or sweetening added after fermentation
• spirit which has had fruit, flavouring or sweetening added after distillation
So I can’t use cider casks for maturation or finishing of Scotch Whisky?
Cider is not a beer/ale, wine or spirit, so would not be allowed.
So if the cask meets all these conditions it is now allowed?
Firstly, even if it meets the above conditions, any previous maturation must have been part of the traditional process for the alcoholic beverage concerned, and secondly and importantly, even if a cask does meet these requirements, all casks used must still result in a spirit which has the taste, aroma and colour generally found in Scotch Whisky.’
Why not cider you ask, which is nearer to Scotland than any tequila distillery? This question links into the revamped rules, allowing tequila casks to be utilised in Scotch. Albeit, some individuals point towards the Diageo task force that was set up to facilitate the change. I suppose you can argue the point indefinitely. If you have enough resources and influence, then you’re able to present a strong case for tequila casks and have an acceptable outcome. Anyway, I’ve written about that aspect previously without delving into the cider side of things.
Point being, new definitions put an end to any foreplay with cider casks. Until that is, as some suggest, Diageo get into cider and have an excess inventory of casks. Only time will tell, but hopefully, you’ve been checking out our recent coverage of cider thanks to the Shakespearean penmanship of Adam?
It struck me from his trips and my own knowledge of cider, that these orchard producers possess some wonderful casks; some of which are truly old. In a way, in my mind at least, they are the bodegas of England. A rich heritage and understanding of apples, creating their products with the minimum of ingredients and care and passion that we see in areas of Scotch.
We have seasoned sherry casks born in Scotland at the Cambus cooperage, which are filled with Oloroso for just 3 months and others with Fino and Pedro Ximenez for a mere month, according to a fascinating article in issue 5 of Distilled magazine. These casks are then disgorged and hey presto! You have your seasoned sherry cask good to go. An inferior vessel to that of old sherry casks, or even just sherry casks that have held sherry of any quality for a longer duration. If you’ve grown up with these casks during your whisky voyage, then you won’t know the delights that an old butt can deliver. Yes, some of the modern-day whiskies can hold delights and surprises. But many offer flavours that are mere surface water with no real tangible depth.
Of course, such casks are cheaper and more easily engineered. I don’t know how plentiful cider casks are, or their cost, but I’d be more interested in their influence on any whisky within, for however long. Yet that door has been firmly slammed shut and that’s a loss. How can you argue tequila is more suited to the flavours and aromas of Scotch when that’s the beauty of whisky? Its variety across the landscape and assortment of flavours. You’re telling me a whisky matured in a tequila cask is going to taste more Scotch-like than something that has spent the same amount of time in a cider cask?
It’d take a brave independent or distillery to now bring cider casks into the equation given the outline above. Thereby writing off the ability to label it for a wider market but I’d suggest on a single cask basis why not? Many out there would be willing to pay for the experience and decide for themselves whether cider cask maturation has a place in Scotch or not?
For now, we’re sitting down with this doomed Glen Moray release. Limited to 2000 bottles and a UK exclusive, this has since sold out, arguably due to the promise of forbidden (stone) fruits. Bottled at 46.3% strength, the casks were sent to Thistly Cross after being initially used for whisky, before being returned to complete cycle with further maturation of whisky.
Glen Moray Cider Cask Project – review
Colour: bashed gold.
On the nose: fresh apples, barley sweets, sugar work, pastry and pears poached in vanilla. A gentle caramel, milk chocolate, waxy lemons and custard.
In the mouth: very simple with fruit sugars, vanilla icing, subtle apples and some banana foam sweets.
A fun whisky without rocking your world. There’s been a calm hand overlooking the maturation, waiting for that moment of balance and integration. Very easy to sip away and you can nose and taste the slight cider influence.
It remains a whisky. I’d be surprised in any blind tasting if anyone attendee felt that the aromas and flavours here were not in keeping with Scotch. There are no elements that reek of malpractice or sinister influence. The cider cask works and it works very well. If anything, it’s less aggressive than the tequila cask, if I think back to Balcones.
Liquid for thought. I’d say, why not use cider casks? Some of the small makers could do with financial support and their influence on a cask could bring us new possibilities.
My thanks to Coldorak from MoreDramsLessDrama for the opportunity to try this whisky and the excellent photograph.