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Scotch Whisky Association Announces New Maturation Rules

Scotch whisky producers have been increasingly experimenting with different styles of oak cask in their search for new styles and flavours. So it is with no little anticipation that producers awaited the amends on maturation rules from the arbiters of the good stuff, the Scotch Whisky Association.

Bourbon, sherry, port, Madeira and all manner of red wines are a familiar sight on labels for any experienced single malt lover. But what about Tequila, Calvados or Armagnac?

In an update to the SWA technical file on maturing Scotch whisky, the previous limitations on only using casks which have been traditionally used for ageing Scotch have been softened.

The new rules state:

‘The spirit must be matured in new oak casks and/or in oak casks which have only been used to mature wine (still or fortified) and/or beer/ale and/or spirits with the exception of:

  • wine, beer/ale or spirits produced from, or made with, stone fruits
  • beer/ale to which fruit, flavouring or sweetening has been added after fermentation
  • spirits to which fruit, flavouring or sweetening has been added after distillation
  • and where such previous maturation is part of the traditional processes for those wines, beers/ales or spirits.

Regardless of the type of cask used, the resulting product must have the traditional colour, taste and aroma characteristics of Scotch Whisky.’

The SWA has clarified, however, that casks previously used for ageing gin will be excluded as barrel maturation is not a traditional part of its production process.

There has long been a debate on how the SWA should balance the competing forces of tradition and innovation. Tradition is such an intrinsic part of Scotch whisky, but others have argued that Scotch needs to evolve to compete with other spirits on the market like rum, bourbon and gin.

Most people in the industry have been supportive of SWA’s strict stance and protection of Scotch Whisky’s reputation across the world, but these new measures are likely to be welcomed as providing opportunities for producers and consumers alike to experiment with flavours they haven’t tried before.

‘This amendment provides clarity and some additional flexibility on the range of casks in which Scotch whisky can be matured,’ said Karen Betts, SWA chief executive. ‘The change is consistent with Scotch whisky’s heritage and traditions, and strengthens our foundations into the future.’

As they say, watch this space!