The wooden cask used to age a whisky plays a key part in that whisky's creation. But once the whisky has been emptied from the cask and bottled, the wooden barrel's life is not over. Far from it in fact. There are many different uses for the empty whisky cask. Here are five such examples
1. Refilling with whisky
A whisky cask can be used more than once. Indeed, scotch whisky casks are often reused casks from the bourbon industry in America. Casks can in fact be used multiple times. You may see a whisky described as "second fill" or "refill". These terms give you an indication that the casks are being reused.
It is true to say that the impact a cask will have on a whisky will decrease the more times it is used (think of a teabag - strong on round one, increasingly weak thereafter). However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you're looking to age a light, delicate spirit over several decades, a refill cask might be a good choice. It will beautifully age the whisky, without overpowering the elegant spirit with an overt wood character.
2. Rejuvenation and then refill
One way to boost a used cask's flavour is to rejuvenate it. There are a few ways of achieving this, but the basic process is:
- shave a thin layer of wood off the inside of the staves;
- re-toast the inside of the barrel; and, sometimes,
- re-season the barrel with another spirit, like sherry.
We use a process of this style called New Era Of Cask to create our award-winning whiskies.
3. Reuse the whisky cask to age something else
Using an old whisky barrel to age another liquid can be a clever way of making use of not only the wood's flavour, but also the flavour of the whisky it once held. Whisky barrels can be used to age a variety of things, including:
- Beer, particularly heavier styles like stouts
- Wine, particularly those with a strong character
- Spirits, such as rum, brandy or tequila.
Whisky barrels can even be used to age artisan coffees and maple syrup!
4. Woodworking projects
The distinctive style and ageing of whisky casks make them popular for woodworking projects when they've reached the end of their life cycle. Common ways of recycling casks include garden planters or even furniture.
Imagine the smell of whisky-soaked oak as it smoulders in the fire - pretty wonderful, right? In particular, whisky barrel staves can be chipped and used as BBQ firewood, imparting a wonderful flavour to the food.
Making the most of whisky casks
All five of these approaches help make the most of a whisky cask’s lifecycle. In addition to making the most eco-friendly use of the wood itself, the flavour the staves will have gained throughout their lifetime is an ideal way to impart flavour to other drinks and food.