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Alcohol: Why whisky is worth its salt

A sprinkling of salt can make blended whiskies taste like malt, it was claimed yesterday.

Researchers in Scotland have found a way of using salt to tease more flavour from oak barrels so the whisky can mature faster. A blend of salts - mainly table salt - is pressed into the stays of the whisky barrel. Then the wood is heated evenly under a specially designed electric burner. The salt catalyses the breakdown of the wood, liberating the subtle wood essences that give whisky its flavour. New Scientist magazine reported that blended scotch whiskies will soon be made to taste as rich as some single malts.

Gordon Steele, director of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute in Edinburgh, said: "We aren't creating new flavours, just enhancing the traditional ones."

He said the system would be used mainly for maturing blended scotches, which make up about 95 per cent of the market. Connoisseurs of single malts need not worry about changes to traditional cask preparation.