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  • Writer's pictureErnie - Ernst Scheiner

Criadera. Solera. New Whisky Category

Updated: Mar 9




A new whisky maturation method is conquering the world


New methods of whisky maturation are exciting the whiskey community. Distilleries around the world are successfully modifying the variety of flavors in whiskies. A trend begins.


St. Kilian, Starward, High Coast and Roe impress with their creations. A new international category is emerging. It's exciting to see the different ways master blenders implement it. They follow in the footsteps of Master Blender David Stewart.


The St. Kilian Solera is constructed in an exemplary manner. Master Blender Mario Rudolf only uses Sherry casks in his Criadera-Solera system to mature the smoky and non-smoky New Makes. He follows the traditional pattern of the vinologists of Jerez. The effective variation of the Kilian Solera selection of fresh barrels containing Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso, Amontillado, Pedro Ximenez and with medium sherry previously were occupied is unique.


How this is done in detail can be read in the Whiskey & Drinks article : Solera.St Kilian. Peated






A Sistema Solera is also used in the aging and blending of Brandy de Jerez and other alcohol-fortified fortified wines in Malaga, Montilla, Madeira . Even in Australia, South Africa, Cyprus or in the Italian Marsala and French Banyuls sur Mer as well as Rivesaltes, in Greece or the USA, the Andalusian solera system can be found in wineries in a similar way. This also exists in the production of vinegar, which matures biologically and aerobically in a similar way to sherry. In the Cognac and Armagnac region or in the island of Okinawa, some fires are started using the same blending method.


Rum

The Sistema Solera also operates several rum distilleries in the Caribbean as well as in Colombia, Venezuela and India. The sugar cane distillates mature in four or more stacks of rows of barrels. A rum from the lowest solera range reaches an age of several decades, although only a small proportion actually came from the earlier years. The blend of young, middle and old rum does not necessarily have to be 40 years old. What is actually true is that the solera was started 40 years ago. The same applies to Sherries.


Impressive Solera Rum bottlings (examples):


  • Ron Zacapa, Guatemala, 23 Sistema Solera (Bourbon, Sherry Oloroso/Pedro Ximénez, Cognac)

  • QRM Rum, Dominican Republic, Ron Quorhum 30 Aniversario (Bourbon Barrels)

  • Ron Centenaro, Costa Rica, Gran Reserva 25 Aniversario (Bourbon Sherry Solera)

  • Puntacana, Dominican Republic, XOX 50 Anniversario Graham Oporto (Port Wine Barrel Solera)


 

Whisky distilleries and solera

Worldwide. A selection


Well, to be honest not all of them really apply the traditional Sherry Sistema Criadera Solera. The term is widely used in a more or less individual connotation.


Hillrock

What's more ... in the USA, the Hillrock Estate Distillery has been producing bourbon variations with the Andalusian pattern Solera Aged Bourbon or Solera Pinot Noir Aged Bourbon in the Hudson Valley of New York State for several years. The Solera variations with Sauternes Barriques - French sweet wine from Bordeaux - and Dakota Shy Napa Cabernet Barriques expand the Hillrock Bourbon portfolio.


Doc Swinson

The dynamic Doc Swinson's Blenders in Washington State released a rye whiskey that they aromatically modified in former American Oak rum barrels using a solera-like process:


"It was an experimental project where we found ourselves a few years ago with a surplus of five-year-old rums from Trinidad, Venezuela and Jamaica alongside a number of recently discarded Bourbon casks. After processing the aged rum, we decided "We chose the solera aging method...to make a rum barrel rye whiskey. At the time, there were only one or two rum barrel aged rye whiskeys on the mainstream market ."


A Doc Swinsons ALTER EGO Rye Whiskey Blend , finished in a Rum Cask Solera, was released with 47% vol. Master Blender Jesse Parker finally matured the rye whiskey blend from two different mash bills in the solera rum barrel system. The barrels came from rum production at distilleries in St. Croix, Trinidad, Venezuela and Jamaica.

For the Solera process, see the detailed description in the Swinson's product description .


Starward

A Solera single malt whiskey comes from Australia from the Starward Distillery manufactured in Melbourne. "A fraction of each young cask is mixed with older ones, so that every Sherry always contains a part of the first cask. This means that every Starward Solera contains a touch of the very first cask of the distillery. The single malt was stored in Apera wine casks from the McWilliams winery, an Australian winery fortified wine." Since 2012, Apera has been the name for a fortified liqueur wine made in Australia, whose aromatic character appears to be similar to an Andalusian Sherry.

 

Gospel

In the south of Melbourne, The Gospel Distillery produces a non age statement double distilled rye whisky made from 100% Australian unmalted rye. The Rye Spirit matures using a modified five-stage Solera method in a mixture of 20 Australian red wine casks, refill-The Gospel American Bourbon barrels and new virgin oak barrels. Since the Solera also contains whiskeys that are younger than three years old, it cannot be marketed as a "whisky" because they fill a 100% Rye New Spirit into the top Criadera made from Virgin Oak Casks. The Criadera y Solera Sistema is connected from level to level with a permanently installed hose system. The barrels rest in a five-tier steel rack. The bottom row is made up of Australian red wine barrels. The spirit blend that runs through the system matures in another separate “Holding” Solera cask series. The final maturation takes place in barrels in which Australian winemakers previously aged red wines. These are wrapped in foil and the heads are covered with special cardboard boxes to minimize evaporation. The first Gospel Solera Rye was released in September 2019.


"Shaped by our unique solera maturation system, Solera Rye delivers an American style rye whiskey with a unique easy-going Australian attitude."

Co-founder Ben Bowles explains the GOSPEL system clearly. The distillery has occupied a warehouse since 2019. They distilled the first moonshine spirits in Portuguese stills in 2015.


NB: Ben Bowles and Andrew Fitzgerald designed a new firing apparatus with a small 2000 liter Swan Neck Wash Still heated indirectly with steam and an adjacent six meter high amplifier column - 20 plates - based on American models in 2020.


J. Rieger & Co Monogram

The Kansas City blend of "straight bourbon, straight rye, and light corn" matured for up to 48 months in Oloroso Sherry containers. Ten 500 liter butts from Bodega Williams & Humbert in Jerez were 50 to 100 years old. The 15-year-old Drysack Oloroso Especial previously matured in the Bodega Butts.


"This year's blend is comprised of straight bourbon, straight rye, and light corn whiskeys that have been aging in our solera since as far back as 2015. The 2023 Rieger's Monogram Whiskey is the first release of our "Kansas City Whiskey - Solera Reserve, " which celebrates the deep, complex terroir of the legendary sherry botas and its effect on American whiskey. The solera method uses fractional blending to age the whiskey. It's a continual process of removing a portion of the whiskey from the barrel, then topping it off with another batch, over many years. This “never-ending barrel” approach creates a unique yet consistent mixture of ages. Having expanded our solera to ten casks between 50-100 years old adds layers of flavor and complexity to what is already a very special bottling."


Blade & Bow

The bottler and blender Blade & Bow processes whiskeys from the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery from Louisville, Kentucky, which stopped production in 1982. A kind of solera from bourbon barrels guarantees traces of Stitzel-Weller bourbon whiskeys.


Stranahan's Diamond Peak

The Stranahan Craft Distillery in Aspen Colorado has been making a Rocky Mountain Single Malt since 2004. A double distilled malt "...aged for 4 years in new American oak barrels with Char #3, which gives it a warm, toasty flavor. The solera-aged malt "...impresses with aromas of creamy butterscotch, brown sugar and baked apples with notes of cayenne pepper and toasted oak."


Oppidan Spirits

The Small Batch Solera Oppidan Bourbon Whiskey from the Craft Distillery in Wheeling, Illinois, is an experimental result: "Our Solera Aged Bourbon continues our philosophy of controlled experimentation. Made from a 5-grain mashbill of corn, malted rye, chocolate malted rye , special B barley and double-row barley. It then goes through a unique solera maturation process in three different types of wood: American oak, French oak and Oloroso sherry casks. The French oak and Oloroso casks are never emptied, ensuring continuity and increasing complexity over time"


The Cardrona

The Growing Wings Single Malt from the New Zealand startup from 2015 is a solera made from Oloroso butts and first fill bourbon barrels.


The Australian distillery in Melbourne released a 56% ABV whisky that it distilled from light and dark malts in stills. It matured in small "charred" Oloroso sherry casks and a number of special cherry and acacia wood casks. Not to be confused with the Craft Works Distillery.


Drayman

A Drayman's Solera whiskey without an age statement was released for the first time in South Africa in 2009. The South African Craft Brewery from Silverton, near Pretoria, founded in 1997, launched a solera made from wine barrels in 2006. Brewer and founder of the Micro Brewery Moritz Kallmeyer bottled a 45% vol blend of grain and malt after the solera had matured. He blended imported Scotch and South African whisky (grain?) together. The aromatic imprinting of the base whiskeys took place in a solera made from barriques in which South African winemakers aged their red wines. Kallmeyer now distills his own double-distilled malt whiskies from his beers brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law.


"At Drayman's, a SOLERA is, in the truest sense of the word, a set of 10 French oak barrels, each with a capacity of 225 liters, used in the aging process...Over a period of 3 to 4 years, a further 5 barrels were placed one after the other at intervals of Filled with new matured Scottish and South African whiskeys for 6 months. The first Drayman's Solera Whisky was bottled in 2009 when part of the contents of the mother cask was tapped. The mother cask was then filled with the next oldest cask and from the second oldest cask to the youngest cask, which then topped up with new whiskey. This process is repeated at the end of each six-month maturation period."


New Drayman's Solera whiskeys are currently not on offer.


High Coast

At the Swedish High Coast Distillery, 500 km north of Stockholm, a kind of six-stage solera is also carried out, but from a mixture with virgin oak and bourbon casks :


"It consists of 10 pieces of 225 liter barrels (barriques) made of Swedish oak and 50 pieces of bourbon barrels (200 liters).

When bottling, we only take part of the whisky from the Swedish oak barrels , so there is always liquid left over. The remaining contents are then topped with whisky from the bourbon barrel upstairs (Criadera 1). And it continues in the same way up to the top layer (Criadera 5)...The system ensures that the whisky is always at least 6 years old, but since the barrel is never completely emptied, Solera changes its character with each new bottling." (sic)


Source: High Coast Distillery Facebook August 21st 2021, photo High Coast Distillery


St Kilian Distillers

With its creations, the German distillery St Kilian is one of the most innovative whisky distilleries in the world. They have caused a stir.


"The initial spark for our enthusiasm for sherry casks, the Spanish bodegas and the solera system came with the first trip to Andalusia in 2019. The idea quickly matured of the sophisticated and complex solera system, which in Sherry and brandy ensures maturity, age and constant “Quality means adapting to whisky,” remembers Master Blender Mario Rudolf.


“Now we are very proud to have installed a [real] Whisky Solera here at St. Kilian, which is probably unique in its form in the world.
We really look forward to the wealth of flavors this complex aging system will reveal over the years.”

The world's first peated Solera Single Malt Whisky was created in Rüdenau am Main. A cask system made of sherry casks and a peated malt with a phenol density of 80ppm (HPLC) from Glenesk Maltings in Scotland.






Their Kilian Solera selection was limited only to fresh barrels containing Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso, Amontillado, Pedro Ximenez and previously medium Sherry were occupied. They decided on a mixture of relatively old bodega barrels from a former Bodega Criadera Solera as well as certified seasoned Sherry casks in which renowned bodegas aged their base sherry wines for at least 18 months . These were supplied by first-class Andalusian cooperages. The first peated St. Kilian Solera Batch 1 was released at the end of 2023.



A non-plated Solera variant will come onto the market in early March 2024.






The first unpeated bottling of the Whiskey Solera by St. Kilian series also went through all three stages of the St. Kilian Criadera-Solera system.


The final aroma in the Solera is exclusively from Pedro Ximénez Sherry casks.


The row of barrels above, the 1st Criadera , is made up of 225 l barrique barrels that were previously filled with Medium Sherry , the winemaker made from Pedro Ximénez grapes.


The top row of barrels of the 2nd Criadera is made up of the finest Manzanilla Sherry barrels, which were filled with mild whiskey that was previously matured in fresh Virgin American White Oak barrels. The mild solera-aged St. Kilian Single Malt is five years old. The Criadera-Solera maturation will continue.








Steward's Solera

“We combine three distinct mashbills (grain combinations) from Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana from different years (2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007).... Then we use barrels of Tennessee bourbon put in cask in 2007. These are all traditional mash bills using dent corn and are from 60-75% corn with 5% barley and the remainder rye. To this we add 3 distinct Colorado bourbons created at Woody Creek Distillers. The first bourbon with a blend of dent corn, what and rye from Colorado and also a bourbon using sweet corn from the Olathe region also in Colorado. The final bourbon created in Colorado used Bloody Butcher corn grown in Connecticut.... Together there are 8 distinct Bourbons in the Solera that combine to create this most unique spirit.”

The bottler and whiskey maker from Colorado, USA, cannot be reached.



Roe Distillery

In February 2024, the Dublin startup Roe Distillery released a triple-distilled single malt that was matured in a kind of solera method. One of the future standards of the distillery, opened by Diageo in June 2019, was created by Head Distiller Laura Hemy.



The Solera finish consists of both re-fill and first-fill American oak bourbon barrels, new unfinished alligator char charred American oak barrels and chestnut barrels with two custom roasting profiles to provide a complete 360 degree profile of the wood ' from spicy to sweet to nutty. The single malt gets its aromatic finish from four different types of Sherry casks.





  • Bourbon barrels add sweetness and notes of caramel

  • The alligator charring of the inner staves adds roasted notes

  • The chestnut woods make the spirit nuttier and spicier with a hint of lemon

  • The sherry casks harmonize and enhance the fruit notes and viscosity


No further specification has been given so far.


Lora Hemy remains silent about which sherry casks, size, pre-assignment - Oloroso, Amontilado, Palo Cortado, Moscatel, Pedro Ximénez - seasoned or Bodega Butts, the respective Criadera-Solera sequence. The inaugural bottling with 46% vol. is neither chill-filtered nor color-adjusted with caramel.



Glenfiddich

Glenfiddich's solera variations are not single malts that mature in a multi-stage criadera-solera system like sherries. Glenfiddich's former Master Blender David Stewart created his first Solera Vatting method in 1998 using his own innovative pattern.


Example: The 15 Year Old Glenfiddich Solera is made up of three maturing whiskies, initially in different barrel cultures


  • -1 European Sherry Casks,

  • -2 American Bourbon Barrels and

  • -3 Virgin Oak Casks


received their basic character.


The vatting of the whiskies from the three barrel types above takes place for around four months in a huge 37,000 liter open-topped vat (see photos below left and middle). After the marriage, only half of the vat is removed and placed in typical Portuguese solera tuns (approx. 700 liters) made of American oak (see right) for the final aromatic expression. The large, half-empty Marrying Vats are then filled again with the above-mentioned cask whiskies, which marry with their predecessors.


A Glenfiddich Finest Solera, exclusively for travel retail, was released in 2016.


The specific Solera process at Glenfiddich was a first in the whisky industry. On the far right are the Portuguese Tuns. Copyright The Gateway to Distilleries 2023.


Speyburn Solera

In 2005, a 25-year-old single malt was released by the Speyburn Distillery in Rothes, Scotland. The name Speyburn Solera on the label suggested the Andalusian ripening process of a criadera-solera system, which winemakers usually use when making sherry or fortified wines in Jerez and Montilla. The information about which procedure was actually used is extremely sparse, if not very poor:


"American fino sherry casks and bourbon casks have been selected." [sic]


It is reasonable to assume that the first and following releases were more some kind of vatting, i.e. a blend of selected Speyburn whiskies which matured in sherry and bourbon casks. The Inverhouse marketing team probably chose the sales-promoting name Solera for the 46% ABV single malt rather intuitively.


Auchentoshan Solera

The Auchentoshan Solera variant of a triple-distilled single malt which was released in 2012 with 48% vol. The Lowland malt was sold in travel retail.


"Matured in a selection of fine oak casks. Solera is finished in legendary Pedro Ximenez casks..."


can be read on the back of the bottle.


In short, the label Solera is more or less some kind of sales-promoting euphemism, as the type of maturation in no way corresponds to a classic Sistema Solera. A vatting of blended Auchentoshan whiskies from Bourbon barrels is only filled in PX barrels for final maturation.


The finishing lasted probably about a year.


No further information is given.





Trends

Statements indicate that the Irish Boann Distillery near Drogheda and the Northern Irish Bushmills Distillery are currently testing Solera trials.



 

Information about the Solera System in Whiskey & Drinks


Solera, how does that actually work? Detailed description with many photos


Solera near St Kilian, with Interview Master Blender Mario Rudolf St Kilian Solera, how does it work?


 

About the author

Ernie - Ernst J. Scheiner is the editor of the portal The Gateway to Distilleries www.whisky-distilleries.net He photographs over 150 distilleries from the inside and describes the production of the whiskeys in detail. Since studying at the University of Edinburgh he has been interested in the subject of whiskey and has published in

Trade magazines such as The Ireland Journal, the small distillery, Whiskey Passion and The Highland Herold . Features and stories appeared in the blogs whiskeyexperts, whiskeyfanblog and whiskeyintelligence . As head of the VHS Ingelheim, and now as a whisk(e)y tutor, he leads distillation colleges, study trips and whiskey culture tours to the sources of whiskey.



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