Barrels in common

The main thing the sherry and whisky trade have in common is the use of old sherry butts from Jerez to age Scotland's premium product. Last week Richard Peterson, chief distiller of White & McKay, was in Spain for one of his regular meetings with head winemaker of González Byass, Antonio Flores. But this time they did not discuss barrels, rather the launch of two new single malt whiskies the Scottish firm will be selling in Spain via the sherry company. The presentation culminated with a lunch at which whisky and sherry were served to partner the food, something that can possibly rate as a first, though not to everyone's taste.

Digging a little deeper, there are other areas where the two products have common ground. Both have experienced a drop in sales, which in the case of sherry started three decades ago, and the gradual climb back has been cleverly underwritten by concentrating on the exceptional and unique old sherries still held in bodegas' stocks and which will never be made again. The finos and manzanillas that we enjoy as an aperitif every day are not in the same category, nor aspire to be.

In the same way that a list of the top-ranking Spanish wines would not include any sherries, the last published list of best-selling whiskies does not feature a single Scotch. All are Canadian, American and Japanese brands, something truly surprising considering where whisky was born. And while part of the sherry recovery has been due to the fact that buyers consider limited production an added attraction, there is no such thing as limited-production whisky. If you have the raw materials, you can make whisky until the cows come home.

Both drink sectors have finally concluded that the buyer demands a quality product above everything else, and has no problem paying for it. While run-of-the-mill blended whiskies will still continue to be drunk in vast quantities worldwide, as will their equivalent in sherry terms, these are low price, low profit lines, and the real money is in up-market labels and expensive presentations.