Stephanie Macleod: The Finishing Touch

The world of scotch whisky relies heavily on finishing casks, but it is a delicate balance to achieve the desired influence. Leave the whisky in too long, and the cask finish can overshadow the actual spirit character. Dewar’s has explored several different cask finishes with its Smooth line of blends, introducing whiskies finished in rum and mezcal casks and, more recently, the ruby port cask-finished Portuguese Smooth.

Master blender and malt master Stephanie Macleod joined Whisky Advocate’s Instagram Live series #TasteWithSpace on Feb. 5 to discuss the care and attention good cask finishing requires. “The purpose of finishing is to complement the taste of the whisky and not to dominate it,” she said. “So it’s really important that we keep a close eye on its progress.”

Macleod took cask samples of what would be Portuguese Smooth every month to monitor the changing flavor profile of the whisky, deciding upon a 4-month long finishing period. She told Whisky Advocate senior editor Susannah Skiver Barton that the Smooth line allows her and Dewar’s to look at different cultures and flavors from around the globe and incorporate them into their blends through cask finishing, but that the whiskies themselves have to display special qualities.

“The object in making any type of whiskey is to always achieve balance,” she said. “And also to make it interesting. I would hate to think that I was ever going to present any whisky drinker with something that was boring.”

Whisky Meets Wine

Macleod and Skiver Barton tasted Portuguese Smooth together as well as Aberfeldy 18 year old French Red Wine Cask-Finished, the No. 10 whisky on Whisky Advocate‘s 2020 Top 20 list. For Macleod, the single malt was yet another opportunity to explore cask finishing while also highlighting the stocks she gets to work with.

“The casks are unique, the whisky is unique, and the two are coming together and producing this beautiful product at the right time,” she said. “These different styles of wine are drawing out these different aspects of [the whisky]. So again, it’s about balance. It’s not about dominating the whisky. It’s about pulling out the aspects of the character that are important to the DNA of Aberfeldy.”

While this specific release used Pauillac red wine casks from Bordeaux, Macleod said that she is open to experimenting with wine casks from around the world. “Who knows?” she said. “The world of wine awaits us.”

Watch the full interview with Macleod on IGTV, and follow Whisky Advocate on Instagram to keep up with future #TasteWithSpace guests. Tune in this Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern when Skiver Barton interviews Tal Chotiner of Israel’s M&H Distillery about warm climate maturation, kosher whisky, and M&H Classic, the No. 20 whisky in the 2020 Top 20.

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