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Everything you Need to Know About Whisky Finishing

Whisky finishing can add another layer to a whisky experience, and the world’s most prestigious whiskies have often undergone finishing. So, what exactly is finishing, and what can it contribute to a whisky? In this article, Parramatta whisky bar Heritage Lounge will be exploring the concept.

As we’ve noted in previous blogs, the cask in which a whisky is matured can have a significant impact on its taste profile and characteristics. Finishing is when a whisky is first matured in one cask, and then transferred to another cask, where it completes its maturation. Typically, this first cask holds the whisky for a period of a decade or two, and is frequently of American Oak (which may have stored bourbon) or European Oak (which has often stored sherry).

The second cask is often a cask that has been used in the wine industry, but it may be more exotic, more exploratory, as its intent is to put the final twist on the finished product. To list just a few examples of possible casks, madeira drums and port pipes may be employed by the distiller. In some cases of more experimental whiskies, even herring and tabasco barrels have finished whiskies.

But given that previous contents are removed prior to decanting the already mature whisky into its new temporary home, how exactly does ‘double maturation’ or ‘wood finishing’ impart characteristics?

It’s a complex question to understand, something understood fully only by few old masters in the distilling industry, but it relates to the wood, and the interactions it has had with what it once held; as well as the size of the cask, the origin of it, and the intangible processes, such as oxygenation and the influence of the wood grains.

Besides, any cleaning or clearing that may be undertaken is only partial. It is estimated that around three per cent of the previous contents are retained in the wood after emptying. Three per cent – that just shows this really is about the small differences, the subtleties that can give one whisky an edge over the next.

The maturation process is not as extensive in the finishing phase, pointing to the fact that finishing really is intended to add the final touch. The typical period for finishing ranges from six months to two years. It’s worth noting, too, that finishing is a relatively new phenomenon, emerging to prominence in the 1980s. It is obvious whisky is continuing to evolve, which makes you wonder what untapped distillation processes will be discovered by distillers of the future.

If you have a look at the Vault Menu here at the cocktail bar, pub Parramatta, and pillar of the Sydney Nightlife, Heritage Lounge, you will find a range of finished whiskies to experience. Where to start? The choice is yours, but the Heritage Lounge team recommend the Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt, which pushes the limits of finishing. Remember how we said two years was the usual maximum range for a finish? This whisky was finished in casks which once held Bual Madeira for 15 years.

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