Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Sherry casks

Whisky. That's basically the same as beer, isn't it? Close enough for me.

Sherry casks. They weren't always what they seemed.

"For all new whisky casks these American staves are used, and let me add that, strange though yet true, because of the demand for, shall I say, a "palateable" whisky, flavoured with sherry, the cooper trade of Scotland lost in wages, year in, year out, an amount almost impossible to state. One thing I make bold to say is, that if all the sherry casks, butts, hogsheads, quarters, and octaves imported, were manufactured in Scotland, the cooper trade would have been one of the most flourishing industries in our country, not only in the past but even to-day. However, by the world's "fancy" for whisky bonded in sherry wood, we create, all unwittingly, a demand for foreign labour, and that, too, at prices far and away in excess of what is paid in this country. If ever "tricks in trade" had an opportunity of profiting thereby, sherry casks opened the door to such "tricks" being adopted, by manufacturing sherry casks. I should like to emphasise the name Slierry Casks supposed to have had sherry wine in them for years, but as "casks" had only been manufactured a few weeks before they were delivered to the distillery for filling with whisky, and having the appearance as if they had been filled with wine for years, lying in some old "Bodega" they never saw, and yet these manufactured or, shall I say, "doctored" sherry casks fetched, and, for all I know, now still fetch, prices double almost, and in cases more than double, the price of new whisky casks.

Let me give one instance, and with all due deference to any distiller who may be present, I think that he will admit my point. I have known of hogsheads (54—55 gallons), sherry shaped, being made and sold at 15s. to 16s. These were shipped to the Continent; they bore no mark, either of maker or manufacturer, yet a father should surely know his child, as it were. I have seen these hogsheads, made by myself, within a few weeks' time in varied distilleries, having been imported from the Continent as fresh sherry casks. Inside, you found a nice crust, as if they had been for years in some old vaults, but, alas, were purely so manufactured, manufactured to sell at 36s. to 40s., with but small cost to the seller, and little advantage, if in many cases any, at all to the bonder. Do we not in many instances thus play into the hands of the foreigner, without knowing the disastrous results that follow to workmen in our own country."
"Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 12", 1906, pages 690-691.

What a scandal. Johnny Foreigner buying cheap casks and making them look as if they'd been used to store sherry. The cheating bastards.


Ed said...

The distillers now buy their own 'sherry' (Pedro Ximenez actually) and treat the casks themselves, though the casks are mostly American bourbon cask.

Gary Gillman said...

I think the reference is to paxarette, a grapy concentrate formerly used to treat casks to impart a sherry-like taste. They were rebuilding American barrels into hogsheads and shipping them to Spain for such treatment. As Ed said, today many distillers simply buy sherry and age it in such "hoggies" in Spain for later use in whisky maturing. I don't think paxarette is used any longer, or prune wine, another additive formerly used to help along the palate of Scotch whisky. I saw trade ads for prune wine and maybe paxarette in an 1800's brewer's publication not long ago, maybe it was Loftus's trade directory.


Gary Gillman said...

This account states that paxarete (so spelled in the text) was (is?) a malmsey, i.e., a sweet Madeira wine.

I understand some paxarette was not a wine as such or not used for beverage purposes, but was a grape concentrate used only to treat whiskey casks. Maybe some real paxarete also was used for this purpose, or originally was so used.

Paxarette was added under pressure and maybe with heat, hence the reference to just a few weeks preparation in the text you cited, Ron.

Personally I have no difficulty just pouring sherry or similar wines to whisky, to me the result is similar to aging the whiskey in ex-sherry casks. I just added an Amontillado sherry to Irish whiskey and the result is excellent.