Whyte & Mackay has announced the expansion of its Scottish Oak Programme, spreading across its entire estate of distilleries in order to help establish native oak use as a quality raw material.
The programme has been spearheaded by master whisky maker Gregg Glass, with the aim of encouraging the use of Scottish oak widely among whisky makers. Alongside this it will also address some historical challenges that surround working with Scottish Oak, such a porosity, 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 US, and European fortified wine casks from Portugal and Spain. Inspired by his time exploring local sawmills with his grandfather on the Black Isle, 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 Glass joined Whyte & Mackay
in 2016 he then began to implement the programme in earnest and has since 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.
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, while looking to establish dedicated oak forests.
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.
The Scottish Oak Programme is one part of Whyte & Mackay’s commitment to a sustainable future for whisky making. 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.