What’s the Difference Between Casks Used for Scotch and Whiskey?


Looking to send a nice bottle of scotch or whiskey as a gift to someone special? Well, it can be a
confusing process, so we’ve distilled it down (pun intended) so you can skip over the learning
process at the liquor store.

The reason why you see words on labels of scotch like double cask, sherry oak, rum cask, etc., is
that is the description of how they barrel and rack the scotch in the aging process. This is similar
between how wine and scotch is made. In the cask process, the distiller decides how to age the
scotch in terms of oak barrels. Some distilleries use new French oak, which produces the taste
of vanilla, vs American oak casks which give finished product more of a mesquite nose. Almost
all scotch distillers use French or Hungarian Oak to finish casks, even though the cost of French
or European oak barrels is considerably more expensive.

What is the difference between Sherry Oak Cask, Double Cask Scotch, Sauternes Cask, Port Cask and Rum Cask?

Sherry Oak Cask – This is the process of where sherry producers send their used casks to scotch
producers for aging purposes. Sherry is a sweet port-like fortified wine produced in Spain from
the Palomino white grape. Sherry is slightly oxidized and carries a beautiful fruit reduction,
concentrated nose. When you blend scotch in Sherry casks, the result is a sweeter, well
rounded scotch flavor with beautiful aromatics.

Double Cask – This is the process of using two casks in the aging process. The reason for this is
twofold. Distilleries use new oak barrels in the beginning of the aging process so that the scotch
extracts more oak in the early aging process. The distiller then transfers scotch to a used barrel
so that it extracts less oak in the latter part of the aging process. This softens the oak presence
in the scotch and allows more fruit to persist in the palate, and generally makes scotch less

Sauternes Cask – Sauternes is produced in the Bordeaux region from Semillon grapes affected
by noble rot, which normally can be considered a catastrophic loss in any other wine other than
sweet white wine. Grapes used to make sauternes are affected by noble rot (aka Botrytis) and
causes wine to have a truffled kind of sweetness. Other flavors of fruits like apricots or peaches
persist in Sauternes. Sauternes producers use the highest level of scrutiny in oak barrels due to
the complexity of Sauternes, therefore scotch and whiskey distilleries seek these barrels due to
the high quality where sweetness, flavors and aromas slightly transfers into the scotch or

Port Cask – Porto is a fine, rich fortified wine produced from the Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz,
Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão and Tinta Amarela grapes, specifically in the Duoro
Valley, northern region of Portugal. Wines are produced and fortified with brandy; a distilled
grape spirit known for its high sugar concentration. Darker tannin and sweetness from the port
barrels, which usually sit in casks or tubes, sometimes for decades. These barrels are highly
sought after for whiskey and scotch producers who look to take the sweet residual sugars that
permeate the barrels and some of the residual darker tannins that show up in barrel aged
scotch and whiskeys.

Rum Cask – Rum is produced all over the world, namely in equatorial, tropical locations where
you can find sugarcane. Sugarcane is the base of rum, which is why it is naturally sweeter than
most hard alcoholic beverages. This is also why it is used as a base in many cocktails (rum &
coke for example). While rum is a notoriously cheap and inexpensive party favor, there is a
growing culture of barrel aged rum producers who are focused on making amazing rums aged
in oak casks for periods of 10, 20, 30 years and sometimes longer. Depending on where the rum
is produced, the flavor profiles can range from honeysuckle, apricot, citrus, pear, peach and
more. These casks generally aren’t used for high end scotch production from the big scotch
distilleries. However, we do see them trickling into boutique production and limited releases.

As you can see scotch and whiskey can vary in taste, aromas and certainly price. The process of
making fine, smooth, creamy scotch isn’t an easy process and takes a lot of patience. Therefore,
generally the longer the age declaration, and the quality of the source materials used will
usually dictate the price. Be advised, just because a scotch has been in barrel for 20+ years,
doesn’t make it better. Generally, the more peat you’ll find on a scotch, the more likely the
recipient is a serious scotch drinker/collector. More peat doesn’t necessarily make it the right
choice for the person who is buying or receiving scotch as a gift.