Finnish Whisky Industry: Casks

Visiting Woodim Finland

Casks are probably the most important part of making whisky. Although it has been said that even the best casks can’t help if your new make spirit is bad. In Scotland spirit has to be matured at least three years in oak casks before it can be called whisky. In the other parts of the world there are more liberal rules and casks don’t even have to be oak or maturing periods can be shorter.

The most used type of cask in Scotch whisky industry is the ex-bourbon barrel. Laws of Bourbon making allow those barrels to be used only once when making Bourbon whiskey. After that, all the rest of whisky industry can and will gladly use them several times. Other widely used is ex-sherry casks which use come from the history of sherry’s popularity in United Kingdom. In the recent decades we have seen countless different experiments with different kind of casks. There is no kind of wine cask that has not been tried for maturing whisky. This has brought along double or treble cask matured whiskies or even seven different kind of casks as in Jura Seven Wood. Also we have seen some single cask whiskies finished in some special cask, usually from couple of weeks to couple of years. Possibilities are endless.

Just before Christmas I visited Woodim Finland office and warehouse. They are the first and so far the only Finnish company importing barrels for maturing alcohol. We have been living in some kind of whisky boom in Finland for some years. We have now at least five distilleries actively distilling whisky, some that have announced plans to start distill and some historical whiskies as well. That gives an opportunity for other companies to be part of the boom. Woodim is generally expert in hardwood and casks business is good surplus for that.

Woodim is based on Lahti, same city as Teerenpeli Distillery and Viking malt (better known for supplying malt to breweries but serve lots of distilleries as well). Maybe not yet enough to change Lahti’s nickname from Windy City to Whisky City but definitely a great start!

Woodim is the main partner in continental Europe for American based Kelvin Cooperage. That provides Woodim for importing wide variety of ex-bourbon barrels and new oak barrels from American oak. After importing casks to Finland more than five years now, they have delivered casks to almost all the Finnish distilleries. Their biggest customer in Finland is Kyrö Distillery who mature their whisky mainly in ex-bourbon and new American barrels. So far we have seen five different releases from Kyrö and it seems that ex-bourbon suits best for their new make spirit.

I got to see the latest batch of imported barrels in Woodim warehouse. Mainly from Heaven Hill distillery and some new barrels as well. Story tells that in these barrels have been maturing one of the Heaven Hill’s bourbon for 4-6 years. So in paper they provide quite good base for ex-bourbon maturing. To see that promise I have got myself one of those ex-bourbon barrels. My plan is to fill it with Scottish new make (will tell which distillery later) at least for eight years and let it finish in red wine cask for two years. Will follow this maturation yearly basis and report in my blog. If interested taking part of this, mail me for more information.

As the Finnish whisky industry grows it seems that Woodim has a place to grow beside. Lahti’s geographical location gives good chance to make business in Russia. Cask industry is changing rapidly as also craft beer breweries are really interested of maturing their beer in oak casks. Woodim has also growing number of breweries as their customers. And even you and me can purchase cask from them. Besides importing Kelvin Cooperage barrels they have contacts in southern Europe and can also provide sherry and other wine casks if ordered.

And what about the price. When visiting Scottish distilleries, they usually tell that ex-bourbon barrels are around £100 and sherry casks around £1000. From Woodim ex-bourbon barrels start from around 200€ and new casks from 300€. Not bad!

There have been some conversations and possibilities for more growth in cask business in Finland. Kyrö and Woodim togeteher has been looking if there are a craftsman in Finland that could make sample casks from Finnish oak. It would be nice to have our own experiment as Sweden has done it already. When talking with people in Finnish whisky industry it seems that there may be chance for someone to make living with cooperage. Hopefully we get some representative for this ancient craftsmanship and get our own whisky cooper.