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Sherry 101

 
Without Sherry, we wouldn’t have quite as many great Whiskies, the reason being that many Whiskies are matured in Sherry casks.

If you really want to know about Whisky, then you need to know about Sherry, so we’re here to tell you everything there is to know and more.


What is Sherry?

Sherry is a fortified Wine that is made in the Sherry Triangle, an area made up of three points: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santamaría. If it’s not made in one of these three places, it isn’t Sherry.

Wine 3349701 1920 Clr

How is it matured?

Sherry makers use the Solera system. This is a way of maturing spirits that replaces contents from the bottom barrel with contents of the one after it, in chronological order.

So when you get to the last row, the barrel at the bottom has been created using liquid from all the barrels below. Basically, as you take liquid out of the first barrel, you use the next one to top it up, and so on and so forth.

Different Types of Sherry

There are so many different types of Sherry. So. Many.

Lets begin with the main types and then we can move into their sub-categories.

With in Sweet Sherries we have Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel, both of which are matured by oxidative ageing. The sugar levels are so high that they never develop Flor.

Pedro Ximenez

This is a dessert Wine where the grapes are sun dried to produce more sugars. This creates sweeter flavours such as treacle and syrup once the grapes have been processed.

Moscatel

Moscatel is also a dessert Wine that produces a honeyed and floral flavour.

Next we have Dry Sherries, with main sub-categories being in Fino, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Manzanilla.

Fino

Fino is a delicate Sherry that is not allowed to oxidise and is matured entirely under Flor. It is a light Wine with notes of almond, herbs and chalk.

Flor Valdiviajerez59 Clr

Oloroso

In Spanish, Oloroso means scented. The ABV is increased to 17% as soon as it is placed in the barrel, so no Flor forms and it matures entirely through oxidative ageing. It is intensely nutty, especially compared to other Sherries.

Manzanilla

Manzanilla is exactly the same as a Fino Sherry, except that the bodegas differ in location. This means the environment, and influence of winds and temperature will change. The name means chamomile and it has a delicate character.

Manzanilla is only made near Sanlucar de Barrameda, which is a port. This means it's slightly salty to taste, from chalky soil and the fact that it has so few other flavours that salt becomes more obvious.

Why Sherry casks?

So why does the Whisky industry use Sherry casks? Well that stretches back centuries.

Sherry first came to Britain in 1587, as the spoils of war with Spain, when Sir Francis Drake brought over 2,000 barrels back from his siege on the city of Cadiz.

It made sense to reuse casks and not spend money on new ones, and they discovered it also made the malt look and taste a lot better.

Whisky became massively popular over the preceding decades, especially with the invention of the Column Still, allowing for continuous distillation, and the fall of the Brandy industry, when France suffered loses to their grape harvest.

Winery 1179256 1920 Clr

Whisky was in demand, and they needed barrels, fast. Sherry was there to answer the call, and it improved the malt massively.

Sherry casks became the number one casks for maturing Whisky for over a century and only dropped in popularity when Whisky itself did.

This came with a change in Spanish law, which said that Sherry had to be bottled in Spain, meaning it was harder to ship the casks in good condition.

But many providers battled on and continued to use Sherry casks, and as such, they are still popular today.

Sherry and Whisky have long gone hand in hand and they prop each other up market-wise. When one succeeds, so does the other.

The tradition of maturing Whisky in Sherry casks goes way back, and it is not one that the industry is giving up anytime soon.

What happens when you use a Sherry Cask to mature Whisky?

The Sherry seeps into the wood when it is being matured, and when Whisky is added, some of that Sherry comes back out and flavours the Whisky.

Williamshumbert589 Clr

This is the process of maturing and the flavours of the Sherry will be evident in the Whisky produced. It is important to consider what type of Sherry is used as well, as the flavour profile of the Sherry will be what is evident in finished Whisky.

Each Sherry will produce a different flavour, and will not be the only influencer. Factors like the wood of the cask, the level of char, the grains used and the environment the cask is kept in will also have an effect.

The amount of flavours transferred will also depend on how long the Whisky is kept in the barrels. It can either be fully matured or finished for only a short period of time. The longer it is in the barrel, the more flavour that transfers.


READ MORE ABOUT: sherry, whisky, wine, maturation, whiskey, finishing

By Greg

Greg

Greg is a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. His mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about Whisky, Whiskey, Gin, Beer and fine dining through his website, GreatDrams.com, writing, brand building and whisky tastings.

 

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