Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Pajarete (Paxarette) and Whisky

Pajarete is a colouring and sweetening wine consisting of sun-raisined Pedro Ximenez must boiled down in a bain marie by a fifth to produce Arrope and by a third to form Sancocho and blended with PX and maybe oloroso. It has been used for a long time in preparing the Sherry shippers’ blends. This style of very sweet concentrated must (without the Oloroso) was popular with the Moors who introduced it, and were forbidden fermented wine.

The name derives from the Castillo Matrera (known as the Torre Pajarete), a ruined XIIIC Moorish castle situated near vineyards between Prado Del Rey and Villamartin in the Sierra de Cadiz, not far from Jerez and Arcos de la Frontera. It is not officially in the Sherry zone, but was before the current zone was delineated. The wine was sold widely from the XVII C, and many authors praised its quality. In fact, wines called Pajarete won seven medals at the Great Exhibition in Paris in 1875.

The Torre Pajarete
The name Pajarete has also been – and occasionally still is - used on some Jerez, Malaga, Montilla and Huelva wine labels perfectly legally, as it more of a style and thus has no DO (except in Malaga), but there is a bodega producing wine still at Prado del Rey, called Bodega Rivero. They no longer make the Pajarete of the past (though there might still be the odd butt), but do make some interesting sweet Moscatel and dry red and white. There is also excellent cheese produced in Villamartin from ewes and goats, and called… Pajarete.

Bodega Rivero, Prado del Rey (Pic cosasdecome.com)

The Rum, Spanish Brandy and Whisky Industries have used Pajarete for a very long time to season casks – or just add extra nuances of smoothness, colour and flavour to the whisky by pouring some in. The idea of wine seasoning of new casks due to shortages of Sherry butts is thought to come from William Phaup Lowrie, an important XIX century Glasgow whisky dealer and blender. He was also, incidentally, the first to import American oak in the form of “shooks” (dismantled barrels).

When casks are sent from Spain to Scotland they normally contain about 5 litres of Sherry/Pajarete to prevent the wood drying out in transport. Perhaps not all of it was once removed before filling with whisky in the past, but nowadays it is regarded as an additive unless absorbed by the wood, and any liquid must be removed. Lucky distillery workers!

In the more recent past, Scottish cooperages would put 500ml of Pajarete into a hogshead (@250L) or a litre into a butt (@500L) and pressurise the cask to 7 psi for 10 minutes to force the Pajarete into the surface layer of the wood. This would rejuvenate a tired cask, but at the most for one filling. Any unabsorbed Pajarete would have to be removed to comply with the law. Since 1982 any form of adding Sherry other than that absorbed into the wood has been illegal.

Nowadays, Whisky producers seem to prefer Oloroso casks to Pajarete casks, maybe because the former has a lower viscosity and thus penetrates the wood deeper, or maybe because it has more depth of flavour –or both. Anyway, Paxjarete is now banned. The major distillers all have serious and expensive wood programmes nowadays, not at all as simple as the Pajarete treatment of the past. As an alternative, there is of course E150 spirit caramel legally available to them, which is much less bother to use and gives the desired colour to whisky, if not that lovely flavour. Pajarete then, is only of historical interest now.

See also: 
Scotch Malt Whisky and Sherry Butts
Sherry Butts and Whisky

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