The Beauty of White Oak

BY NANT BLOG

Quercus, also known as American white oak

Quercus alba is a typical oak species that is water and rot resistant and due to its closed cellular structure, it resists leakage. Coopers (the person that makes barrels and casks) use the Quercus alba timber in the crafting of ex-sherry or ex-bourbon casks.

The oak lactones (compounds) found in the Quercus alba contribute to the sweetness, aromatic profile and enhance colour.

We present 2 informative articles we found that cover the role of American oak in the whisky making and our head distiller shares how the Nant single malt whisky expression profiles are influenced by American oak.

  1. The whisky advocate’s article “Why And How Oak Matters In Whisky by Jake Emen covers the profound effect oak has on the taste of whisky.

  2. American White Oak Barrels For Aging Spirits by Steve Mayes talks about the importance of full depth barrel charring in the US.

 
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Nant Distiller Experience

“The use of white oak or virgin American oak that hasn’t previously held any other spirits is quite unusual in traditional single malt whisky making and almost unheard of in Tasmania.

The practise originates from the production of Bourbon or American whiskies that use white oak for the vast majority of their maturing spirit. In America they are only allowed to use a cask once by law so the casks are sold and then repurposed and used by other whisky making nations, such as Australia, to then age their spirit in. These will be known as bourbon finished whiskies. These casks produce some excellent whiskies but quite different to the bourbons that were in them previously.

In an attempt to bridge a flavour gap between ex-bourbon cask whiskies and bourbon we had the idea of maturing a Nant single malt fully in a first fill white oak cask. 

Previous attempts by other Tasmanian distilleries had proven unsuccessful mainly due to the lack of heavy charring on the inside of the casks. We carried out an experiment with different charr levels and found that the heaviest charr worked best. The main reason is that this process helps to crack the surface of the wood and allows greater spirit penetration and draws out the flavours, in particular vanillin, which helps to give bourbon it’s characteristic flavours. The charr also acts like a carbon filter to help remove impurities too.

The Nant new make spirit tends to have pleasant sweet notes and malty/biscuity flavours combined with the characteristically Tasmanian oily/buttery mouth feel. When combined with a heavily charred white oak cask we can produce a single malt Tasmanian whisky this is original to Nant with a fantastic and unusual flavour profile.” Jack Sellers, Nant Head Distiller.

Summary: The process of maturing single malt whisky in premium, hand selected oak casks is paramount to the production of exceptional liquid gold to be enjoyed by all.

Photo credit: Miguel Vieira - White oak (Quercus alba) on William B. Umstead State Park Sycamore Trail