The World of Single Malt Whisk(e)y
It puts the Ssshhhh in Sherry Casks
Have you ever noticed the difference in the color of sherry cask influenced single malts that were distilled in the 1980s and earlier against ones from the 1990s to current day? How much darker they were? Have you noticed the difference in taste? How much more impactful the sherry presence was? How much more it was "in your face" present and even the same abv (alcohol by volume) back then seemed more intense?
A Macallan 12 year from the 1970's and 80's is darker than today's 18 year and there is no color added.
I'm not talking about E150 artificial coloring
or chill filtration (which is a conversation for
another time). I'm talking about the precursor
to E150 (but all natural) paxarette.
Paxarette became forbidden, banned to use
in 1989 by the Scotch Whisky Association.
That along with the shortage of Oloroso
sherry casks due to Scotch whisky supply
and demand, younger tree's being cut
down to create casks and newer maturation
we’ve seen a decrease in the quality of today's sherry profile single malts.
Paxarette was made with Pedro Ximenez grapes and comes from the Sherry region in Spain. It was cooked and processed to make a sweet grape concentrate. It's darker because of the caramelized sugars produced.
Different distillers used different recipes for their own twist on paxarette in their own particular casks.
By combining Arrope, the boiling down of unfermented grape to 20% of its volume and Sancocho, a kind of soup that is cooked to about 30% of its volume the two were are combined to make paxarette. After fermentation it contains 8 to 9% alcohol. It has the consistency of a molasses. Like Sherry it further ages in a Solera (a process of aging barrels on the ground).
The casks were seasoned by spraying the paxarette into crevices and pores of the oak wood staves under very high pressure, left to rest, and then excess liquid was skimmed off.
Occasionally the applicators applying of the paxarette had a heavy hand and some was left in the cask or it wasn't completely skimmed off adding to a more heavily influenced color and taste.
You may notice when people are enjoying a pre-1990's sherry cask bottling and they accidentally get a bit of the nectar of the gods on their fingers you’ll find them inconspicuously licking their fingers? It’s that sweet paxarette,
So now you know.