Butts, barrels, barriques? Puncheons and pipes, drums, quarts and blood tubs? The vernacular used in whisky making is baffling at times. Some romantic old names have become colloquialisms across Scotland, even within their niche functions such as coopering. Other terms are scientific, familiar to boffins in lab coats but rather challenging to your whisky newbie. So, when we recently came across the term squat hogshead in the maturation profile of the latest release in our Rare Cask Series we delved a little deeper into exactly what that means.
The 1988/30 was distilled by a previous generation and has been passed down ‘untouched’ to our current team. Stocks like this are becoming increasingly precious; hence the name of the Rare Cask Series. This whisky has been matured solely in ex-bourbon casks. This unpeated spirit, matured only in bourbon casks, is a combination favoured by many in the distillery’s own team, as it perfectly enhances our light and floral house style.
Where this whisky’s path becomes more intriguing and complex, is when we consider that not all ex-bourbon casks are exactly equal. One parcel has been matured in your standard 200 litre refill ex-bourbon barrel. The other in squat hogsheads.
Hogshead on its own, refers to a cask that has been rebuilt from barrels. Once the bourbon distilleries of America have used their casks only once (a law put in place to protect the lumberjack trade in the States), they are broken down into staves or ‘shook’ casks and sent to cooperages in Scotland. These casks are then rebuilt into bigger vessels, using extra staves and new heads. Your average hogshead will hold around 250 litres of spirit.
According to our head distiller’s ledger, there were a number of shorter bourbon barrels taken in by the cooperage in the 1970s. Holding just 150 litres, these shorter staved casks had a wider bilge. When rebuilt into the hogsheads, the resulting dumpy cask, held just 210 litres.
While its not a squat hogshead, the video below demonstrates all the component parts of a cask, taken on a day a cooper with 41 years’ experience spent with our warehouse team.
It is generally understood that smaller casks will mature a spirit faster, and larger casks lend themselves well to a longer maturation time. We could hypothesise then, that having extra wood allows a gentler maturation for our delicate Bruichladdich spirit, which is especially successful over this 30 year period. Far from one-dimensional, the new oak heads have given an added layer of oaky complexity.
By combining these two parcels of spirit, one in refill bourbon barrels and the other in those squat hogsheads, a harmonious yet flavourful balance is found.
“It is another stunning example of how well Bruichladdich ages, nothing about the spirit is tired or over-oaked, it is still delicate, fruity spirit with a tremendous floral edge, all underpinned by this lovely oak presence.
“There are many factors that make a whisky what it is. The rarity of this whisky from the long maturation in very rare casks makes this particularly special. The time has come to bottle this as the last of its vintage, perfectly aged, and never to be repeated.” – Adam Hannett, Head Distiller