Whisky Focus - Whyte & Mackay Expanding Its Scottish Oak Programme

Whyte & Mackay Expanding Its Scottish Oak Programme

20th July 2021
Scotch Whisky maker Whyte & Mackay is expanding its Scottish Oak Programme across its entire estate of distilleries, the programme seeks to establish the use of native oak as a quality raw material for the wider spirits industry and support the skills required from harvest right through to cask creation.

Whyte & Mackay Master Whisky Maker Gregg Glass

Scotch Whisky maker, Whyte & Mackay, has announced that they are expanding their Scottish Oak Programme across their entire estate of distilleries to help establish the use of native oak as a quality raw material for the wider spirits industry, starting with Scotch.

Spearheaded by Master Whisky Maker Gregg Glass, the programme aims to establish the use of Scottish Oak widely among whisky makers while addressing some of the historical challenges around working with Scottish Oak, such as porosity, quality, consistency of the wood, and cost versus true value.

Typically casks used in the production of Scotch whisky are sourced from abroad, most commonly ex-Bourbon barrels from the USA, and European fortified wine casks from Portugal and Spain. Inspired by his time exploring local sawmills with his Grandfather on the Black Isle, Glass wanted to explore how to harness all that the local environment has to offer the whisky maker. He set about exploring the role Scottish Oak could play, and what it would take in terms of forestry management, and every skill required from harvest to cask creation.

When Gregg Glass joined Whyte and Mackay in 2016 he then began to implement the programme in earnest. He has developed partnerships with other organisations – including local landowning estates, sawmills and coopers – to create an initiative with the vision to one day be adopted by the Scotch Whisky industry.

Glass explains: "The Scottish Oak Programme seeks to inspire change within the Scotch whisky industry. We want to champion the potential home-grown oak offers the spirits industry, and the incredible diversity of flavour it offers the whisky maker.

"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. 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."

As the programme develops, the adoption of Scottish Oak will grow to support local businesses and craftspeople and stimulate demand for traditional skills from forestry management to coopering, alongside apprenticeships and shared learning. A key aspect is the use of local sawmills and adapting historical sawmill practice and kit, some dating back to the 1930s, to equip local businesses with the tools required to process Scottish Oak, ensuring our local skilled craftspeople have what they need to apply their skill to locally sourced Oak.

Glass’ vision looks not only to sourcing oak for cask production, but to encouraging a circular economy and future-proofing Scottish Oak for the next generation of whisky makers. To that end, the programme has developed a planting scheme which has already seen over 15,000 trees replanted across Scotland. In addition, Glass and his partners are establishing dedicated oak forests that are carefully looked after to ensure longevity.

In 2019, Whyte & Mackay’s experimental arm, Whisky Works, launched its first Scottish Oak part-finished expression suitably named ‘King of Trees’. The 10-year-old blended Highland malt was created using wood from two 200-year-old wind-felled Scottish Oak tree to make one cask. The whisky maker is set to announce a second Scottish Oak release under its Fettercairn brand later this year.

Andrew Russell, General Manager at Speyside Cooperage Ltd, comments: "Owned by Tonnellerie Francois Freres Group, Speyside Cooperage Ltd was established in 1947 in the heart of malt whisky trail. We now have cooperages in Tullibody in Clackmannanshire and Shepherdsville in Kentucky as we continue to preserve the time-honoured craft of coopering by continually training apprentices at all our sites.

"Whilst we supply and cooper casks mainly built from American and European oak to the drinks industry worldwide in many sizes and for many liquids, the building of Scottish oak casks is something very different for us.

"From the selecting of trees, to the sawmilling, air drying and coopering of the oak grown in Scotland for over 100 years, it is a project we are very proud to have been part of with Gregg and Whyte & Mackay. We look forward to producing casks from local forests in Scotland for generations to come."

The Scottish Oak Programme is one part of Whyte & Mackay’s commitment to a sustainable future for whisky making. The responsible sourcing of Scottish Oak allows full traceability, will create tree planting initiatives in rural and urban communities, and help support forest stewardship across Scotland.

The whisky maker’s sustainability agenda is to be published in an upcoming Green Print report, which lays out their approach towards carbon neutrality by 2030 and the Scottish Whisky Association’s target to achieve net zero emissions by 2040, ahead of the Scottish Government’s target of 2045.

You will find the current Whyte & Mackay's portfolio of whisky including Whyte & Mackay's blends and single malts The Dalmore, Fettercairn, Tamnavulin and Jura available from specialist online whisky retailers such as The Whisky Exchange, Amazon and Master of Malt

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