In researching my previous article on sherry, I read about the Solera System. The Solera system, in short, is a method of maturing an alcoholic drink so that different ages are blended together. It is most frequently used in sweet wines, but is also used in some spirits including cognac, rum and…whisky!
The Solera System Explained
The Solera system starts with one wine of one vintage. It is placed in barrels in a row. The next vintage is then barreled and placed on top of the first. The first vintage is tapped for part of its content, and the second vintage is added to the first. The next year, a third vintage is placed in barrels. The first vintage is again tapped and filled up with the second vintage. This time the third vintage fills up the second vintage’s barrels. And so on. The bottom barrels (the first vintage’s barrels) are never emptied.
In simpler terms, the Solera system has the older wines gradually being combined with newer wines in a chain system.
The Solera System In Whisky
The notion of the Solera system being used in whisky production piqued my interest. Many distillers are moving away from age statement whiskies in favor of a mixture of ages. Age statements are a useful marketing ploy and help justify spending exorbitant amounts of money for a bottle, but don’t make the liquid inside taste any better.
Glenfiddich have picked up on the idea of a Solera vat being used in whisky production. The Glenfiddich 15 year old is an example of a whisky that uses a variation of this method. They use an enormous vat which gets filled with whiskies aged in different types of casks. All of the whiskies are combined in the vat and left to blend. The vat is only ever half emptied to be bottled, so that
The solera system, by design, imparts consistency of taste and color on a liquid. People enjoy consistency with their whisky, and distillers spend money adding coloring to whiskies to create this (illusion of) consistency. Bad batches do happen, which can cost distillers time and money and damage reputations if they are provided to the market too frequently. Perhaps the solera system is worthy of consideration for more widespread use.