By Richard Thomas
Although the overwhelming bulk of Scotch whisky is aged in used American Standard Barrels (ASBs), the most prized cask for maturing whisky is the Sherry butt. Whiskies aged in first-fill Sherry butts are especially so, and those drawn entirely from such sherried stock are invariably known as “sherry bombs” for the potent flavors the malt whisky has derived from its time spent mingling with the sherry-soaked wood.
Much like the smoky, peaty malts of Islay, sherry bomb malts have their own devoted following. These are the seven sherry bomb whiskies to get to know, based on both their sherried character and their availability. Few of the whiskies listed below have triple digit price tags, and none come from discontinued lines or are chimeras like the Japanese Yamazaki Sherry Cask.
This single malt is released in discrete batches, drawn from stock entirely matured in Oloroso sherry butts, and bottled unfiltered and at cask strength. Typically available for about €70 or the local equivalent, this is the Christmastime single malt of choice for The Glenlivet Master Distiller Alan Winchester, and a favorite among sherry-loving whisky drinkers everywhere.
This single malt is a relatively recent creation of the Highland distillery, dating back to 2007, but it quickly became a fan favorite. After a dozen years of aging in ASBs, the whisky receives a lengthy, three year finish in a collection of lesser known sherry cask types: matusalem, apostoles and amoroso. The result is citrusy, earthy, spicy stuff, but also imminently approachable.
Glendronach 15 Revival
Glendronach is a distillery known for producing heavyweight sherried whiskies, and Glendronach 15 Revival was an expression that landed with a boom. For years it has been considered a big bargain buy, and this despite a relatively stiff price tag. Some of the key online retailers in Europe list it as out of stock, but I’ve never had trouble finding it on the Continent when I’ve gone looking for it, and it remains widely available in the United States for right around $100 a bottle.
Way back in 1968, Glenfarclas became the first distillery to release a cask strength single malt (60% ABV), and today that grand-dad of barrel proofs is known as Glenfarclas 105. Add to that piece of lore the knowledge that Glenfarclas is noted for its sherried style, based on malts aged in Oloroso or Fino Sherry casks, and you can understand why Glenfarclas 105 is considered a sherry bomb. The expression is frequently named alongside Aberlour A’bunadh as a fan favorite sherry bomb.
Glengoyne 25 Year Old
Yes, it costs around £230 ($325), but it’s still a bargain at that price. Go look at what 25 year old single malts drawn exclusively from sherry cask stock cost, and you’ll see what I mean. What is more, the rich flavors of dried fruits, marmalade, spices, and nutty oak this spirit has picked up after a quarter century of marinating in those casks… well, for the sherried whisky fan, the price is worth it.
Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso
The Glenlivet’s Nadurra range is another favorite among whisky fans, being based upon the principles of small batch production with no chill filtration and cask strength bottling. The range started with ASB-aged stock, but expanded this version, drawn from first-fill Oloroso sherry butts. It’s a full-bodied, heavily sherried single malt from the world’s top-selling single malt distillery.
Strathisla 12 Year Old
The sleeper among the seven is this fruity sherry bomb from a distillery better known for contributing stock to blends and for its antique origins than for its own single malts. It isn’t drawn exclusively from sherry cask stock, but the sherried whiskies within shine through in the flavor; it isn’t a cask strength, but at €35 it is the cheapest of all the whiskies listed here.