Exotic woody notes, unusual grassy herbs, mildly sweet with brisk pepper, rye spices and dark Mediterranean fruits. Coconut water on the nose and Bounty bars on the palate. Very unusual and delicious. ★★★★★
When it is first harvested, oak wood is wet with sap and prone to shrink and warp. Unmanaged, this could lead to twisted staves and leaky barrels. So, newly cut oak must be dried before it is made into whisky barrels.
The quickest way to do this is to heat the wood in large kilns where much of the moisture is forced out of the wood rapidly by evaporation. This is how wood is dried to make lumber.
For whisky though, quickest is not always best. New oak also contains sap and tannins that contribute “green” flavours and bitterness to the whisky. Kilning does not get rid of these.
Generally, whisky and wine makers demand wood that has been dried slowly in the open air – two years is usually the minimum. Air drying removes many of these undesired flavours.
To facilitate this, workers cut the newly harvested oak into blank staves then stack it neatly but loosely, and leave it outside to dry. Stacking helps prevent warping while still providing full exposure to the elements.
As it dries, the wood in these stacks is affected by the weather. The outer layer of the stack slowly turns grey in the sun, while inside all the staves, microorganisms and enzymes very slowly change the composition of the wood itself. However, the real benefit is rainfall.
Many tannins and other undesirable wood components are water soluble and with each rainfall they wash out of the wood bit by bit as the rainwater percolates down through the stack. A little tannin adds structure to the whisky but too much and you think you are chewing on a bitter log.
Coopers call this slow natural drying process “seasoning” and it results in oakwood that is much gentler on the spirit. Thus whisky or wine can age longer without becoming over wooded.
The whisky for JP Wiser’s Seasoned Oak spent its first 18 years in standard used cooperage.
At this point, the mature corn and rye whiskies were blended together and put into other barrels made from wood that had been seasoned twice as long as normal – four years. After a year in these barrels, the whisky, now 19 years old, was bottled at 48%. The result is a whisky that is both soft and richly flavourful.
Seasoned Oak is the second in the new Rare Cask Series from JP Wiser’s. This is an Ontario exclusive, so you can buy it at the LCBO or at the distillery only. With fewer than 6,000 bottles available it will go quickly.
Nose: very old crumbly dry wood then spices, high esters, mildly floral tones, soft clean wood, grape jelly, golden raisins and water from a freshly picked green coconut.
Palate: unusual herbal notes with much less traditional wood than expected. Rather, the initial impression is more of sandalwood and other “exotics.” Mild sweetness and brisk peppers are followed by typical rye spices – nutmeg and allspice, though not much in the way of cloves. Dark Mediterranean fruits, dried figs, and an irresitable blend of sweet and bitter marmalade contribute an uncommon, semi-tropical fruitiness. Bounty chocolate bars linger in the background with a slippery, creamy mouthfeel and fleeting warehouse smells (on the palate).
Finish: long, bitter-sweet fruit, hints of dried figs, warm spices and tingly pepper on the lips,
Empty Glass: firewood, sweetness, sweet bread & butter pickles.
At first, this whisky takes the Canadian flavour profile in an unanticipated new direction. Exotic wood and fruit notes remain throughout, without dominating a rich blend that gradually gravitates into the traditional Wiser’s house style. The hints of coconut are especially exciting as this was once the much sought after hallmark of long-aged Scotch single malts, most particularly the old Springbanks.
Very highly recommended. ★★★★★
$100 at LCBO.