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What does a Cask Finish do for whisky?

Posted by Katey Rudlin on

Much like a Debutante was sent to finishing school to give her that extra edge before the ball season; so many whiskies receive a final maturation on a different type of cask to add to the quality of their finish. It’s like adding the sauce to a sticky toffee pudding.

How does whisky mature on oak?


New spirit is clear and relatively tasteless, with a distinctive “new spirit” smell. When it isBalvenie 17 Doublewood put into a toasted oak cask, two things happen: The interaction with the wood takes away the immature quality of the spirit and also begins to impart colour and flavour from the wood itself; notably vanilla and coffee notes, (European Oak) or coconut, (American Oak).

The two most common types of cask used for maturation are Ex Bourbon, (American Oak) and Ex Sherry, (European Oak). Whisky matured in Ex-Bourbon casks typically develops creamy flavours, vanilla, coconut, banana and spice, whereas whisky matured in Ex-sherry casks reveals nuttiness, stone fruit, apple and spice, notably nutmeg.

What does a cask finish do to the taste?

Finishing a whisky adds flavour specific to the previous occupant of the cask. Finishing is a technique being used more and more by the distilleries themselves but is also commonly used by independent bottlers.

These days with ever diminishing supplies of European Oak and ex sherry casks in particular, more and more whisky is being settled into American Oak for the bulk of its maturation. 

Here are some examples of finishing wood types and the flavours they impart:

Read more about wood maturation

Wood Type for Finish

Typical Flavours

Example Whisky Available as at 12th july 2016

European Oak

figs and raisins and a certain nuttiness and spice

Balvenie 17 yo Double Wood

  balvenie 17

Pedro Ximenez Sherry

Syrupy dried fruits and raisins

Dalmore 18 yo Dun Bheagan 

dalmore 18

Deanston 16 yo Dun Bheagan

Deanston 16

Ben Nevis 16 yo Dun Bheagan

Ben Nevis 16

Burgundy Wine

Intense fruity flavour,

Benriach 16 yo Chieftain's

Benriach 16


Cherry, chocolate and Turkish Delight

Arran Amarone Cask

Arran Amarone Cask


Molasses, vanilla, tropical fruit, caramel

Balvenie Caribbean Cask

Balvenie Caribbean Cask

Triple Maturation e.g.: refill casks, American oak maturation, European Oak finish


Talisker Triple Matured

Talisker triple matured

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