What Whisky Flavors Do Different Types of Oak Produce?

The influence of the barrel makes up a huge part of a whisky’s flavor—often most of the flavor comes from the wood, and that wood is almost always oak. (By law, whisky in Scotland and most whiskeys in the United States must be aged in oak.) So the type of oak the whisky ages or is finished in matters. Here are the six main types of oak used for aging whisky.

American (Quercus alba)

Typical flavors: The standard-bearer, offering vanilla, caramel, baking spices, and coconut

Try it: Your favorite bourbon

Mizunara (Quercus mongolica)

Typical flavors: Oriental incense, with sandalwood, spice, and coconut

Try it: Hibiki Japanese Harmony, which incorporates Yamazaki-distilled, mizunara cask-matured malt whisky into its blend, or Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish, finished for 3 years in new mizunara casks

Garryana (Quercus garryana)

Typical flavors: Dark and rich, with molasses, heavy cloves, and barbecue

Try it: Westland Garryana; the 2017 release features a portion of unpeated single malt matured in garry oak barrels

Spanish (Quercus robur)

Typical flavors: Dried fruits, spiciness, and zesty orange citrus

Try it: Macallan 12 year old, aged entirely in Spanish oak sherry casks

Irish (Quercus robur)

Typical flavors: Vanillin-heavy, with chocolate and caramel

Try it: Midleton Dair Ghaelach, matured in 48 hogshead casks produced from ten specific 130 year old Irish oaks, dry seasoned for 15 months and medium toasted

Limousin (Quercus petraea)

Typical flavors: Dry with prominent tannins and spice, and softer vanilla and fruits.

Try it: Brenne Ten, matured in new Limousin casks, and finished in used Limousin casks which previously held Cognac

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