Before being transferred into casks, the newly made spirit will have its strength reduced to 63,5% vol. with demineralised water. The cask being used are usually casks having been previously contained Bourbon, and are used either as they come or after being rebuilt as hogsheads in Scottish cooperage.
They will usually be kept on site for ageing or in a centralized warehouses together with other spirits from a same company or group.
Last stage of the process of whisky making, ageing is at the same time the longest one and one of the most important. The origin and the quality of casks have a determining role in the end result, as well as, even if to a lesser extent, the location of the warehouse. The quality of he air, its temperature, its humidity, its coastal character or not, have an influence on the ageing process.
The nature of the warehouse itself has its importance, in particular depending whether it is more or less isolate. For instance, it is generally admitted that warehouses with earth ground provide the best results as they maintain higher humidity level. As a matter of fact, during ageing some alcohol evaporate through the wood of the casks with losses of about 2% per year, this is what is called the "Angel Share". In a humid warehouse the loss of spirit will materialize as a decrease of the alcoholic loss, which will advantage the obtaining of a high quality whisky. In a dry warehouse, this loss will materialize through a diminution of volume, with in extreme cases a rising of the alcoholic strength, and will deliver a dryer spirit. Altogether, losses are lower in dry warehouses than they are in a damp ones, the latest which provide the best results are also the most costly.
Temperature also has its influence on ageing, if it is higher maturation of the whisky will progress faster.
It is only after three years of ageing in cask that spirit is entitled to be called whisky, but one usually considers that it is only after 8 years that a malt whisky reaches real maturity. Some can reach their optimum at the age of 10 or 12 years, many are those which will take advantage of further maturation up to 15 years or possibly beyond. If some of them may become exceptional at the age of 20 or 25 years, others might suffer of staying too long in a cask, their character ending up in fading away and aromas directly imparted by the cask becoming too preponderant.
Last of all, one should not forget the ultimate stage in the long process of whisky making which is bottling. The reduction, which is the operation by which the alcoholic strength, initially at around 60% vol, is brought down to drinking strength - in most cases 40 or 43% vol - is much more delicate than one usually imagines. Quality of filtration has also an important effect, in particular depending whether it is a chill or non chill filtration process.
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