It has been a while since I looked in on our grand office living cask experiment. Now, over two years (and what a couple of years they were!) of PX quarter cask internment, it is time to once again investigate what’s been happening to our unusual Glenallachie.
Raised Eyebrows and Dilated Pupils
To bring you up to speed: In August 2019 we acquired a punnet of six exciting casks. Each was octave cask in size (50litres), and had formerly contained the sweetest of treats: Pedro Ximénez Sherry. They were empty casks, but brimming with the memories of the sherry they had greedily absorbed.
As a team, we got together and compiled some tasting notes over the first few weeks of the experiment – which were a time of rapid change in the life of this whisky.
We started with a of caskful of Glenallachie, matured for 3 years in a refill bourbon hogshead, duty paid, in IBCs and ready to go. The literage of this young whisky was transferred into five empty octave casks which were decorating our whisky library and tasting room in central Edinburgh – letting us turn them into a very practical demonstration of the art of maturation.
The 3 year old Glenallachie was potent indeed, causing dilated pupils and vigorous cries as it was sampled. Notes of unripe tomatoes, Sauvignon blanc and maltesers were detected at this stage.
A month later, and the whisky had been transformed by the PX quarter casks. The colour was much darker – already like a cup of mild earl grey – and the notes of apple strudel, coca cola and cherries in syrup were coming through. Cloves by the bushel were dominating the palate, too – perhaps a little much for those not nursing a eugenol craving. There was still a considerable edge to it, as well as a sharpness that was a bit tart. It was not yet a mature whisky, but it was a very different one from what it had been a mere month ago.
For an account of what 2 years living inside PX-infused quarter casks has done to this whisky, read on:
2 Years of Post-Maturation
There’s no way of knowing how much alcohol there is in this whisky now – two years living in a central Edinburgh office in a room whose temperature fluctuates according to the weather and the number of people present is quite a disturbed atmosphere for a cask of whisky. Based on its ability to knock your socks off, though, I’d estimate it’s still in the high fifties!
When this sample was taken in March, there were sadly fewer people around in the office to pester with a freshly drawn dram and a notebook invitingly open for tasting notes. Consequently, the tasting notes that follow skew much more closely to my own opinion and don’t have the benefit of being tempered by the wider team.
The sample is darker than it was two years ago, but the change is not as pronounced as it was in the first few weeks spent in the cask. Those PX octaves worked more quickly in their first exposure to the Glenallachie.
As I bring the sample to my nose, there’s still a youthful feistiness to it, – still unsubtle and powerful like I remember, but overall; this whisky is a new and different beast from what it was.
Tasting Notes of a 5ish yr old PX Octave Glenallachie.
The wafts of cherries in syrup have remained a core flavour, now supported by additional aromas of raspberry and almond; manifesting themselves with reminders of macarons and frangipane tarts.
The heavy clove aromas have faded and become more compliant with their neighbours. Spiciness remains at the end of the nose, and now takes on a black peppery quality as well. Some of the tartness is now deeper, darker and reminiscent of tamarind paste.
On the palate there’s a sweet/bitter combo. Super dark caramel and seville orange marmalade which edge towards dried pears on the finish. The whisky has a great oaky quality as well – woodiness that has grown since last time.
When water is added, things become a little more malty and the sweet/bitter one-two punch of dark chocolate rises up.
A Drinker’s Opinion
It’s amazing to have witnessed this change in the maturing whisky firsthand. In late 2019, it was a lot of fun but also quite a challenge to drink. The level of challenge has decreased: though our office malt is almost certainly unsuitable as a commercial bottling with wide appeal, it has calmed down enough to be a wonderfully niche whisky experience. Let me indulge in a metaphor.
The first few months of PX octave maturation were not short of flavour, but those flavours WERE somewhat disorganised and rowdy. Now, after two years, a very raucous party that was being dominated by some extreme personalities has mellowed down to become a welcoming and noisy hubbub. Still a bit discordant, some guests are still a bit ostentatious and the music is an experimental indie track you’ve not heard before. It’s not bad, though, and it’s certainly lively. You could grow to like this party!
So that’s where we are, 28 months into the Glenallachie living cask experiment. It’s a rare privilege to be able to freely sample a whisky as it matures in oak, though we’d be the first to admit that they aren’t textbook maturation conditions.
If you’re keen to try such an experiment yourself, there are small oak casks easily available in capacities of a few litres – perfect for home maturation projects. Tiny casks will do their work even quicker than our PX octaves, so you don’t even need that much patience.
Alternatively, if you come to visit us in Edinburgh, you may be able to join us for a dram of our very own whisky experiment we’ve been nurturing.