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Mini Casks

by Ben Ellefsen     21. September 2012 14:36

Pretty awesome huh?

I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked - either by bar owners, or just experiment-loving whisky-geeks - whether we can get hold of little diddy casks for them to mature stuff in.

So – ladies and gents – here we are: 4 different cask sizes from 1 litre to 50 litres, all provided with a diddy little bung to go in the top of the cask, and all with a nice little tap from which to dispense your very own cask-aged products.

They’re made from 100% Fresh Kentucky Oak, and have been toasted to a medium level (maybe medium-heavy). As with ‘normal’ casks, the ends are un-toasted. In the name of science, I took the hoops off one of the 5 litre ones and bashed it to bits for you to see the way they’re charred for yourselves.


Charred Staves

In terms of the way that spirit (or indeed ‘stuff’) is going to develop inside these casks, the answer is pretty darned quickly, and with *a lot* of Oak influence. The very first day that I received a sample of these, I filled one of the 1 litre ones full of vodka (Smirnoff Black since you ask), and monitored its progress with glee. There’s a lovely little photo below of the vodka before going into the cask, after one week, and after 2 months. As you can see below, after a couple of months it looks more like a well-matured bourbon than anything else.

The fact that it matures so quickly is intrinsically linked with the surface area to volume ratio of the cask. #MathsAlert

Now bear with me, and I’ll educate bore the socks off you.

If we take the internal surface area of your average 225 litre whisky hogshead and lay it out flat, it’s going to be about 1.8 sq/m*.

If you take the internal surface areas of 225 1 litre barrels, you get about 10.8 sq/m*.

This means therefore that there’s (proportionally) approximately 6 times more surface area available for the spirit to interact with (and we all know that wood is where most of the flavour comes from in whisky)…

This in turn means that you’re going to have a spirit that’s got the wood influence of a 2yo bourbon (the minimum legal age for a bourbon) inside of two months.

Oaky

Now I know what you’re all thinking – “All my worries are over, I’ll never need to buy any of that ridiculously expensive ‘aged’ whisk(e)y again!”. Hmm...

Whilst there’s no denying that the wood influence happens quickly on this scale – very quickly indeed – there is genuinely no substitute for time. Wood on its own is not a panacea – or the SWA wouldn’t have such a problem with people using additional toasted oak staves to accelerate the maturation rate of a cask.

The 2-month old spirit you can see in the image above is currently sitting here on my desk, and, well, it’s Oaky. Very oaky. It’s also sweet, spicy and incredibly vanilla-rich. If you gave this to pretty much anyone, they’d tell you it was a bourbon (I left a bit to evaporate in a glass over a weekend and it even formed a sticky residue in the bottom of the glass – such is the sugar content of the wood). They’d then probably go on to tell you that it’s pretty overpowering and unsubtle. This said, I have caught myself subconsciously taking several sips over the course of writing this post, which is usually a good sign. It’s also worth pointing out that because I used Smirnoff Black in this experiement, the colour is going to be much less intense than if I’d matured some new-make at 63.5% abv (ethanol is a much more powerful solvent than water, so a higher ABV spirit will extract more from the wood).

We’d therefore recommend that unless you actively want a product that’s intensely oak-rich, you think about maturing something else in the cask before you go on to cram it full of whatever it is that’s already going through your head… Just a bottle of Vodka would do, just something to take the initial Oak-Hit – to fall on the Quercus-Grenade for you.

So – without further ado - the products are all available here – fill your boots!

Kentucky Toasted Oak Barrel - 1 Litre - £33.95

Kentucky Toasted Oak Barrel - 5 Litre - £69.95

Kentucky Toasted Oak Barrel - 20 Litre - £149.95

Kentucky Toasted Oak Barrel - 50 Litre - £379.95

And to answer the question you’re all thinking – yes – of course we’re going to release a ‘Mature your own kit’ – it’ll be here in just a few short weeks.

And to answer the second question you’re all thinking – yes – Sherry-Finished, Bourbon-Finished and [pretty much anything else we can think of]-Finished casks will follow in the fullness of time. We’re busy experimenting with the best, and most cost-effective way of doing this as I type…

 

Ben.

 

*This isn’t exactly right, as I’ve used calculations based on spheres, and barrels aren’t perfectly spherical, but you get the idea…

Comments (10) -

9/21/2012 5:11:44 PM #

You've just blown my mind!

Ioannis United Kingdom

9/21/2012 6:59:37 PM #

Will the 5 Litre be able to be shipped to Shetland? (hopefully using parcel force)

I'm very interested....

Stuart Terris United Kingdom

9/21/2012 8:01:14 PM #

Premium Distillers here in Canada sold these a couple of years ago with a bottle of blended scotch to age in it. I have since done some lower priced single malts and some sherry (to condition the cask). Lots of fun! Be sure not to wait too long though. The "angel's share" gets significant after a couple of months.

Andy Thomson Canada

9/21/2012 8:32:43 PM #

'Sup y'all,

Stuart - Yes, absolutely - you can order today for dispatch to the Shetlands.

Andy - happy times. I'm really interested to see the rate of evaporation too. My guess is that 95% of people are going to store these in their living rooms too, so 20-something degrees as opposed to the more usual 13-ish in Dunnage in Scotland.

Ben @ Master of Malt United Kingdom

9/28/2012 4:02:30 AM #

I love the cask, I have been traveling all over world looking for collectible stuff like this. Really love to have one in my collection.

Jim @ Euro Tash Blog United States

10/31/2012 12:13:41 PM #

Can't wait to get mine ... one Q: If I leave sherry in it will it have sherry influence to subsequent NMS that I put in or will the char affect the sherry??

Joe United Kingdom

9/14/2013 5:52:05 PM #

Hi, we got our mini cask 4 weeks ago and have had Sherry in it for the last 3 weeks. However we have just noticed mould growing on the outside of it, before proceeding to whisky how do we treat the mould without affecting the wood? We had it stored on the kitchen bench (i thought it was a dry environment) Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

kind regards
Mini cask newbies

Sarah United Kingdom

9/17/2013 6:22:33 PM #

Hi Sarah,

It’s probably just air-borne mould feeding off the cask/sherry on the outside of the cask which isn’t being preserved by alcohol. - If so, you should be able to wipe it off with a wet cloth, and it's not anything to worry about!

Jake Mountain United Kingdom

9/17/2013 6:24:18 PM #

Hello Joe,

Super late reply from us, sorry, but yes, both of those things Smile

Jake Mountain United Kingdom

11/15/2014 6:00:06 AM #

How many times can you use this? And can you store something else in it to freshen it up again?

greg Australia

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