11 June 2016

Is "Sherry" matured "Whisky" equal to "Bourbon"?

The answer to the question in the title is no, or it is? Is there a partial truth?

In my Quest to understand whisky I have been asking myself questions.

The answers to these questions have sparked more questions. The question formulated in the title of this blog has been sparked by my explorations into the "Sherry" influences on "Whisky" blog I wrote earlier. 

The that sparked that blog was:
  • Can the "Sweet" notes found in "Sherry" matured "Whisky" be better explained by saying it's actually more comparable to a "Bourbon" than a "Sherry matured Whisky"?
To answer that question I first need to answer other questions. Questions like:
  • What is "Bourbon"?
  • What is "Whisky"?
  • Why is "Whisky" different from "Bourbon".
  • What is "USA Single Malt" Whiskey?
  • Which tastes are unique to those styles and what does it say about the influence of barley, American Oak and refill times on those tastes? 
  • What is the influence of Alcohol % on flavour extraction from the cask?
  • What is "Sweet"?
  • Can humans smell "Sweet"?
  • Can humans dicriminate between "Caramel Sweet", Fruit "Sweet" and "Sugar Sweet"? 
  • Is the "definition" of "sweet" dependent on the "Social group" you are part of?
One of the, supposedly, best examples of a "Sherry" influenced Whisky is the GlenDronach 15 YO revival. Listen to the bourbon references Ralfy makes in this Vlog.

Taste and smell in "sherry", "single malt" or "bourbon" whisky can only come from four factors. 

Factor one is the "cask". 
Factor two is the "liquid". 
Factor three is the "air".
Factor four is "time". 

One could say that solving the influences of the factor "sherry" in "whisky" is like solving a factor in a mathematical equation. 

In solving a mathematical equation there is the way the equation is written, the constants, the variables and the multipliers (x / - + etc). 

Every mathematician knows that some equations can not be solved with too many unknowns.

Simplified a formula for whisky could (I don't presume to know) look something like this:

Whisky = Cask x Liquid x Air x Time

A formula for the cask could look something like this:

Cask = Wood x Size x Charr 

A formula for the liquid could look something like this:

Liquid = Mash Bill x Production choices x Productions tools x Yeasts x additionals 

Air = humidity x air pollution x temperature x pressure x oxygen/nitrogen 

Time = time 

For sake of this blog lets us assume that the factor "Cask" is a constant (which it isn't) as a New Make Minnesota white Oak 30 gallon barrel, charred at level 3. I selected this "constant" since I found out that multiple craft distillers use this type of Barrel. (And I happen to have multiple drams make in such barrels)

Let's also assume that the factor liquid is a constant by using the BruichladdichIslay Islay Barley trickle destination proces or the Koval stills made by Kothe.

Notice that the influence of previous content in the barrel has not been added to the equation of "cask" nor to the equation of "liquid". 

Previous content is either a additional constant in the total whisky formula, and/or it has not been added to the formula for "liquid" and/or "cask". 

In order to know to which part of the formula the "previous content" needs to be added more questions need to be answered. 

What is previous content?

As a mathematical formula one could say: 

Previous content = free flowing content + absorbed content in the (wood of the) cask 

This sparks more questions. Is the free flowing content part of the barrel content when "whisky" is added? The answer for "scotch whisky" MUST be no, since additions to whisky are prohibited by both European and UK laws. 

This reduces the formula for previous content to: 

Previous content = absorbed content in the (wood of the) cask

How did the previous content get into the cask? 

Did the previous content change, add or retract flavour components to the cask?

If the previous content "adds" to the flavours it must be "inert" in order for it to only "add". 

This leaves "change" and "subtract" 

Change and subtract are dependent on the influences of time, solvents, reactants, catalysts, oxidatives etc.

One of the solvents is water, the other is alcohol.

The text below is derived from a book I'm reading: 

The importance of wine contact has not been established. Constituents of sherry have been identified in whisky matured in sherry casks, but their sensory impact, if any, has not been established. 

This is not an option but a fact documented by people with mush higher academic degrees than me. Do I agree? I will find out! Ha! 

In a most interesting study to show if Scotch matures in Sherry casks is Kosher rabbi Akiva Niehaus does extensive research  into the left over Sherry/wine in a cask. This study can be found here. I think the conclusion is that Sherry matured Scotch is not kosher, meaning there is a transference of the liquid in the wood structure from the cask to the spirit. 

What is the influence of ABV on flavours extracted from the cask?

Questions I asked:
@"bourbondistillery" do you know if there is a relationship between alcohol % and taste extraction from new American oak?
@iRomby High alcohol concentration will extract more compounds and color, so it will also extract more tannins, causing a harsher flavor. That is one of the reasons we barrel the whiskey at 113 to limit the extraction on our 30-gallon barrels.

This answer by one USA distiller indicates  that, in practice, there is a relationship between ABV and how many favours are extracted. 

I already knew that barrel size has an influence. So one more parameter to add to the equation.

Flavour = time x cask x liquid x interaction x catalysts + absorptions

Interactions can be:
- recombination
- degradation
- reactions
- solution
- dilution 
- suspension
- absorption 

Work in progress 

Can humans smell Sweet?

In response to this blog one blender gave  this insight in relation to this question.

I was always told that you can't smell sweetness. If you dissolve sugar in water it doesn't smell sweet. However we can smell ripeness (of fruit) and other elements, which give us the impression of sweetness.

Personal insight into "PX sweet".

To try the "sweetness" of "sherry" I bought a bottle of "PX sherry" and putt it in my glencairn. 

To be honest, I can't smell the sweetness. I smell something like ... I don't know what I smell but it's nothing like what I smell in "PX sherry" matured whisky. 

Highly concentrated raisin, red grapes, syrop. Something nutty, yes, but fat nutty. Taste is syrop, lots of non fruit sugar. 

Personally I don't like it one bit. Reminds me of overconsentrated children's limonade made from syrop not made from fruits or berries but more like rose-bottles or cauth syrop. 

One thing I am sure about. When the nose of this PX sherry hit me my first instinctive reaction was not whisky or anything remotely bourbon related.

After tasting some more I actually reacted with goosebumps and a foul taste and shaking my face. This stuff is nothing like the DenHool or Laddiemp3 sherry matured whisky. 

Since this is my opinion it's open to development of my palate and nose. So I will keep an open mind towards the "PX" influence, but for now I reject the "sherry liquid" influence as being the main driver in a sherry matured whisky. I would now guess that 90% is from the wood, 10% sherry liquid (want to say 0% but keeping an open end".

As Another test, to validate the wood influence, I compared the Corsair Tripple Smoke Single Malt from the USA which was matured in 15 gallon new make American wood to "sherry matured" whiskies. The recognition with the sherry matured laddieMP3 for instance is almost instantaneously. 

I bought the Triple Smoke by Corsair especially for trying out a single malt matured in fresh American Oak to try first hand the influence of fresh American Oak on a Single Malt. Almost the same nose and palate. This again leads to an insight that the "American Oak" influence is much more prominent than the "sherry notes" that are left in the wood. 

To keep an open mind I will keep second guessing this insight and will try to disprove it. 

Work in progress 

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