No matter what whisky you’re drinking, chances are it was aged in oak. Whether new or used, American or Canadian, ex-sherry or ex-bourbon, the casks that maturing whiskies call home are almost invariably made from the flavour-enhancing wood. But this doesn’t mean barrels can’t be made from other woods, and with a looming oak shortage, that might be imperative. As it happens, some creative minds such as J.P. Wiser’s master distiller Dr. Don Livermore are experimenting with aging spirits, whisky specifically, in all manner of woods with great success.
If there’s anyone who’s qualified to explore the effect different woods have on the flavour of whisky, it’s Livermore. Since completing his thesis on the influence white oak barrels have on Canadian whisky at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Livermore has received the moniker “the mad scientist of whisky” thanks to his experimental distilling practice. “Testing new finishes has always intrigued me, and I was curious to find out how blending less common wood varieties with white oak could result in some unique expressions,” he says.
With the recently released J.P. Wiser’s 13-Year-Old Hickory, aged in reconstructed Canadian oak barrels lined with hickory, Livermore delivers a master stroke in his already impressive portfolio. Leading with a subtly smoky nose, the flavour of the 13-Year-Old Hickory quickly veers toward stewed and caramelized fruits and a pleasant tropical sweetness. The predominating flavour is well-torched banana pudding, while the finish returns to the tertiary quality of the nose, smoke being replaced with baking spice.
Two further releases from J.P. Wiser’s limited edition wood series—13-Year-Old Black Walnut and 13-Year-Old Japanese Oak—will be available in select Canadian provinces later this year.