The question we all wondered when reading the menu at a bar. George Cassidy answers.
Single Malt refers to the fact that the whiskey is the product of a specific distillery, in my example the Bowmore Distillery on the Scottish island of Islay. Malt whiskey refers to the fact the whisky is distilled from malted barley, as opposed to other grains, corn, etc. A blended Scotch whisky, like the multiple versions of Johnny Walker, are a product of malt and grain whisky, from multiple distilleries from the various regions of Scotland.
My example bottle of Bowmore is the product of a carefully selected mix of various casks of malt whiskies that were distilled at Bowmore over the years. The age statement of 15 years refers to the fact that the youngest whisky of that mix spent at least 15 years maturing in it’s cask. The 15 year old Bowmore could have older whiskies as part of the mix. The mix of these various aged casks of Bowmore malt whisky is then diluted with water down to 43% alc/vol and bottled for the consumer. This mixing of various casks is done to provide a consistent taste for the connsumer.
A “Single Barrel” whisky, or a” Single Cask” as is most commonly used with Scotch whisky, is whisky that is bottled straight from a single cask or barrel. These bottles will typically identify both the distillation date and the bottling date for that specific cask. In addition, it is typically bottled at “cask strength”, often in the 50–60% ab/v range. (We often call this “casket strength” as a joke because of it’s high alcohol content).
Single Cask is the purest form, in my view, of a good malt whisky. You capture the unique characteristics (nose, finish, feel on the tongue, etc.) of that barrel. Those characteristics can change from year to year depending on the quality of the barley, the peat used, the weather, the actual cask being used to age the whisky, etc.
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