Whyte & Mackay is expanding its Scottish Oak Programme across its portfolio of Scotch whiskies, part of a wider campaign to help establish native oak use in spirits maturation. The Glasgow-based producer asserts that sourcing local oak offers a more sustainable option for the Scotch whisky industry, which commonly imports casks from abroad – typically ex-Bourbon barrels from the United States and fortified wine casks from Spain and Portugal.
Whyte & Mackay’s master whisky maker Gregg Glass started the company’s Scottish Oak Programme when he joined the company in 2016. “The Scottish Oak Programme seeks to inspire change within the Scotch whisky industry,” he said. “We want to champion the potential home-grown oak offers the spirits industry, and the incredible diversity of flavour it offers the whisky maker.”
Whyte & Mackay works with local estates, sawmills and coopers for supplies of native wood. “Our close relationships with industry partners mean we know the provenance of Scottish oak and are even able to trace it right back to the individual tree,” explains Glass.
The Dalmore owner unveiled its first expression of Scotch part-finished in Scottish oak in 2019, a 10-year-old Highland malt dubbed King of Trees. Later this year, the company will release a native wood whisky under its Fettercairn brand.
In the past, Scottish oak has presented difficulties for whisky makers due to the wood’s porosity, quality and consistency. Glass’ team, however, hopes to fix these issues moving forward. “Through experimental whisky maturation and analytical trials, we can assess how the different variables – including growing conditions, drying and wood seasoning, oak type, coopering skills and heat treatment – can impact the flavour of the resulting whisky and there is a myriad of exciting flavour profiles to explore,” he said.
Whyte & Mackay believes the use of Scottish oak will foster local business and develop skills in Scotland’s communities, creating jobs in forestry management, cooperage and more. To jump-start the industry and ensure that local tree populations remain healthy, Glass and his collaborators have initiated a reforesting scheme which has planted 15,000 trees so far.
For more information, head over to Whyte & Mackay’s official website.
In December, Whyte & Mackay launched its Live From The Sample Room podcast. The new series from the spirits giant grants exclusive access to the people, places and stories behind some of Scotland’s top distilleries.