Sherry or Bourbon? No, give me a whisky!

What on earth does Sherry or Bourbon have to do with drinking Single Malt Whisky?

Answer: the type of casks that the new-make spirit (future whisky) is often matured in.

It’s all about the flavour.

The taste of your whisky comes from the amalgamation of the barley, the water, the fermentation process, the distillation process, the type of cask used to store the spirit and, finally, how long and where the cask was stored. And that’s just a quick summary!

The two most common casks used to mature whisky are American Oak ex-Bourbon casks (yes, they were originally used to mature Bourbon) and European Oak ex-Sherry casks (used to mature sherry). So, how do these different casks affect the Single Malt?


If you are sampling Cask Strength Whiskies and are lucky enough to have two of them, one matured in bourbon and the other in sherry, you’ll notice a difference in their colour. The bourbon cask lends a yellow-to-golden colour to the whiskies and the sherry cask tends towards dark, almost reddish in colour.

Don’t be put off by whiskies which are very light in colour (sherry red or bourbon golden)!

Tasting Notes

This is tricky. Since there are so many factors influencing the flavour of any one whisky, it is difficult (for me) to pinpoint which flavours come directly from which source. Generally speaking, you might recognise a whisky matured in sherry casks as it tends to be more complex in flavour, and can include some spice from the European Oak and rich flavours of dried fruit, such as raisins and sultanas.

Bourbon, on the other hand, tends to be characterised by being smoother with sweeter notes which may include vanilla or pine. The American Oak can lend a certain spice to the malt too, but it is generally different in character than the European Oak spice.

Ace Tours: what to drink?

Call us to organise your Ace Distillery Tour: we can take you to a full range of distilleries famed for their editions matured in sherry (Glenfarclas is one of many) and the same for their editions matured in bourbon (Strathisla, and then lots more). See if you can spot the differences between them yourself.

We look forward to showing you what this wonderful area has to offer.