The rules that dictate how distilleries can use casks to craft Scotch whisky are changing. Recently released by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the amended regulations will allow for the use of a wider selection of casks during the maturation process.
The amendments come after a public consultation by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The changes are thought to provide greater flexibility to the distilleries at the heart of Scotch whisky making.
Previous guidelines stated that distilleries must utilise casks that showed signs of traditional use. The loose guidance however left many distillers confused about its meaning. The new rules were developed to clear up this vague definition to ensure clarity for those making Scotch whisky.
Under the new regulations, distillers can age Scotch whisky in casks that have been used to mature other alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine (this includes still and fortified varieties), ale and spirits. There are some restrictions on which previously used casks can be utilised to mature Scotch. Aging in casks that have previously been used to mature drinks made with or produced from stone fruits is prohibited for instance.
The finer details
As well as not being able to mature Scotch in casks used to distil beer, ale, wine or spirits made with or produced from stone fruits, distillers are not permitted to use casks that have been previously used to age beer or ale that has added fruit, flavouring or sweetening post-fermentation. Casks that have aged spirits that have had fruit, flavouring or sweetening added after distillation and where such previous maturation is part of the traditional processes for those wines, beer, ales or spirits can also not be used.
Scotch whisky regulations may be changing but the importance of tradition remains. Whatever type of cask is used under the new guidelines, the spirit that results must have the traditional characteristics of Scotch whisky. That includes its colour, aroma and taste. This also applies to spirits that have undergone any ‘finishing’ or further maturation of at least three years in a different cask.
The new rules have been welcomed by distillers across the country, who are keen to retain the heritage and tradition of Scotch whisky, as well as strengthen practices for the future. The regulations, which are now a part of the Scotch Whisky Technical File, provide much-needed flexibility and clarity, whilst safeguarding the quality and origin that has been built over several decades.