Casks are magic. From the outside, you can't see them doing their work – the magic is invisible until you reveal the whisky within. Its colour, its smell, its taste: so much is thanks to the cask. This year's show bottlings look deep into that magic, each showing a different way that a cask can shape a whisky.
The four whiskies in the range each examine a facet of cask influence and each has had a very different journey from tree to bottle – we call them The Magic of the Cask.
On the labels, the details are hidden, just like the cask's influence, until you are ready to reveal the whisky's secrets. The Whisky Exchange's creative director Raj 'Mr C' Chavda, designer of the labels, took inspiration from the mystery of maturation:
CAOL ILA 9 YEARS OLD
GONZALEZ & BYASS CASK
It's difficult to tell casks apart when they're stacked up in a warehouse. But every now and again you notice differences. A cask that's not quite the same as the rest. Hiding under the paint on the end of this whisky’s cask were the words Gonzalez & Byass, a name famed sherry maker Gonzalez Byass stopped using more than 100 years ago. We don’t know how old the cask is, but it’s old.
These days, sherry casks in the whisky world are almost all made specially for maturing whisky. But this cask is from before that time – an old-fashioned cask, giving us a glimpse into the past.
BEN NEVIS 22 YEARS OLD
REFILL SHERRY BUTT
When we talk about sherry-matured whisky, we so often focus on the flavours of fresh, active casks. Intense dried fruit, plums, dates – the headliners in the world of sherried whisky. But there’s much more to sherry casks than that. The second fill of a cask will reveal a different character, with the intensity dialled down, letting the spirit show its face as well as the wood.
That's the case here. The distillery's fruity spirit and the cask are intertwined in harmony. Fresh and candied fruit mingle, bringing subtle sherry-oak tones to the party.
IMPERIAL 23 YEARS OLD
REFILL BOURBON BARREL
Casks are a time capsule, carrying whisky forward into the future for generations of drinkers to come. While fresh and active casks often take the limelight, it’s the older, refilled casks that hide some of the most astonishing whisky.
The cask still adds flavour but there's another process that is often overlooked – the transformation of the spirit by time itself. Two and a half decades of ageing have allowed this whisky to mellow and change, revealing the heart and soul of this lamentedly lost distillery's character.
45-YEAR-OLD BLENDED MALT WHISKY
REFILL SHERRY BUTT
In the past, the simple act of moving whisky between casks to ‘finish’ was just seen as good warehouse management, but in our modern era it is a key part of whisky making. Layering the influence of different casks can create excellent drams – when it’s done right.
This whisky takes things a stage further, with a selection of casks blended and filled into a single refill sherry butt in 2005 for a final protracted rest. The cask has mellowed the whisky without hiding its complex and intricate history – a well-balanced combination of skilful blending and cask selection.
As with all magic, it’s the unseen actions which create the spectacle. The cask is the cloth over the magician’s top hat: inside something wonderful is waiting to be revealed.