For my birthday last year, my wife bought me two 1-litre mini casks (I know…I’m lucky). My immediate excitement slowly turned to apprehension…what the hell was I going to do with these things? Obviously I was going to put whisky in them, but I wanted to do it properly and give myself the best possible chance of a successful experiment.
The issue was there wasn’t a lot of information on the world wide interweb (now open 24 hours a day) on how to properly utilize these miniature wooden vestibules. So, I went to Twitter and started asking for help. With a combination of the advice from Twitter, as well as the little info off the web, I gave it a shot.
My goal here is to give you a step-by-step (ooohhh babbbyy) guide to using these mini-casks. Please keep in mind, this is only one way, of many, to use these things. It may not be the best method but I am 13% certain it’s not the worst. Here we go…
- Buy the casks: Probably the easiest step. Go to Google or Bing (I’m a Bing guy) and search ‘mini whisky casks’. There are a ton of companies that sell these things in all sorts of shapes and sizes and with different levels of char or toasting on the inside. My only suggestion is to stick with 1 litre casks, for now. Think about it, the bigger the cask the more whisky you need to buy and whisky is bloody expensive right now!!
2. Rinse the casks: Using really hot water, rinse the casks until the water coming out is clean. Trust me on this…DO NOT RUSH THIS STEP! I must not have rinsed one of my casks properly because my first bourbon came out looking like coffee after 4 months. I still drank it…it smelled like burnt wood…it tasted like burnt wood…the finish was burnt wood.
3. Fill the casks with water and let them sit: This is another lesson from personal experience. When I got the casks, I was super excited and only let my casks sit for 3 days before emptying the water and filling them with bourbon. If you don’t leave the water in long enough the wood won’t be fully saturated with water, so when you put the bourbon in, it gets heavily absorbed into the staves. I lost 25% of the bourbon in 4 months. My suggestion is to fill the cask with water and let it sit for a full week while rotating it every few days. This allows the wood to swell and closes any gaps between the staves. Ensure you put the casks in some type of tupperware because you may get some leakage.
4. Season the cask: After 1 week of sealing the cask, it should be time to put some whisky in. If your cask is still leaking, send it back or call your local mini-cask cooperage. This is where you need to make a decision; you can season your cask with bourbon or sherry (or anything you want really) or you can go straight to some single malt scotch (for a virgin oak taste). I decided to season both my casks with bourbon. Here is where I made another mistake. Without getting too much into the science of it (I’m not a mathemetologist), each month the whisky spends in a 1-litre cask is equivalent to approximately 1 year in a full size cask. So, after a whisky friend of mine heard that my casks had been full of bourbon for 4 months, he said, “empty them ASAP”. Apparently, to season a mini-cask, 1 month is more than enough. One of the casks turned out really well; the bourbon had new woody flavours that were very enjoyable. The other cask (the one I didn’t rinse properly) tasted like burnt wood and looked like muddy water. Oh well!
Cask T was filled with Bulleit Bourbon and Cask W was filled with Maker’s Mark.
5. Get some single malt scotch in there: Does it have to be single malt scotch? Hell no. It’s your experiment so put whatever you want in there!
Here’s what I did:
Cask T: I searched high and low for ‘new make spirit’ for this cask. I wanted to see if I could mature spirit right out of the stills into something drinkable and maybe even enjoyable. Finding new make spirit was not easy. I searched high and low and had to settle for a few bottles of ‘Naked Single Malt’ from Lucky Bastard Distillery in Saskatoon, Sasktachewan. I say ‘settle’ but that’s only because when it got shipped to me, I realized it was bottled at 46% and not the 60+% I was hoping for. I have never tasted new make spirit before so I have nothing to compare this stuff to…but let’s just say it smelled and tasted awful.
Cask W: In this cask I put Glenglassaugh Torfa. Torfa is an NAS peated single malt that has one of the coolest noses I have ever nosed (Is that grammatically correct?). The problem I have with Torfa is that after the nose, it’s all downhill from there. My theory was that with some additional maturation in a bourbon-seasoned cask, Torfa could be an amazing whisky. You’ll have to wait to find out if I was correct in my prediction…
6. Determine how long you want to mature the whisky: If we use the approximation that 1 month in a 1-litre mini cask is equivalent to 1 year in a full-sized cask, the you can generally have an idea of how long you want to leave the whisky in the cask. This is not an exact science and there are a whole lot of other factors involved but you get the idea.
Cask T/New Make Spirit: Obviously, new make spirit will need more time than matured whisky. I ended up leaving the new make in for 7.5 months while checking along the way. You can see the color difference in the picture. It went from clear to a nice brownish colour. The final flavour…let’s give it a 5/10. Way better than the new make spirit tasted.
I wasn’t overly impressed with the final results so I took what was left of the new make spirit, added the new make that has been matured for 7.5 months, and put it all back in the cask for more maturation. We’ll see how it goes.
Cask W/Glenglassaugh Torfa: I matured the Glenglassaugh Torfa for an additional 4 months in the mini-cask, which would equivalate to roughly 4 years in a normal cask. I didn’t leave it longer because, after tasting it, I noticed huge differences already, and I didn’t want the burbon to take over the Torfa flavour profile. You can see the colour difference in the picture, here, and the flavours changed very nicely. It still has the Torfa nose that I love but it has more woody notes now, along with stronger bourbon notes of vanilla and caramel. It simply tastes like a more mature whisky now…which it is. I would give the new whisky an 8/10 and others have agreed that it tastes great.
Once I emptied the Torfa, I added a bottle of Glenkinchie 12, which is still in the cask. My goal is to have a 3-way Glenkinchie tasting where I compare GK 12, GK Distiller’s Edition (Sherry Cask Finish and 1 extra year of maturation), and my mini-cask Glenkinchie (several months of extra maturation in a mini-cask seasoned with bourbon and Glenglassaugh Torfa). We’ll see how it goes!
- Buy a funnel
- Buy 1-2 oz sample containers and take samples of every spirit (I forgot to get samples of the bourbons pre-cask)
- Rotate the casks every 1-2 weeks. This prevents the staves from drying and increases wood interaction.
- Store the casks in a cool, dark room, if possible. Unless you want to replicate maturation conditions in India…then store them next to your furnace!
- Take lots of pictures and keep lots of notes! I used white tape on the bottles and tracked everything in a note book.
- Have fun with it!!
Hopefully this post has given you some additional confidence in trying your own mini-cask experiment! It really is a lot of fun and even though the results can be quite mixed, hitting a home run like I did with the Torfa (even after striking out with the Naked Single Malt) make sit all worth while.
Please feel free to comment below or on Twitter/Instagram @ScotchClubYEG.
Until next time…Cheers/Slainte!