Breaking down the barrel: single malt vs. single cask whisky – what sets them apart?
The Secrets Behind the Label: what single malt, grain, and cask?
To understand the term 'single malt', first, determine which part of the whisky making process each word refers to. Let's begin with the term 'single' – this part of the term can be confusing, as it can refer to various factors related to whisky. A common misconception about single malt whisky is that the word 'single' implies that the whisky must be the product of a single batch or barrel. However, it's not the case.
The fact is that most single malt Scotch whiskies are blended. Blending is the process of combining whiskies from different casks and ages to create a final product. Distilleries blend whiskies to balance flavours to create their single malt because different casks impart tastes to whisky differently.
It is time to solve the puzzle – if the word 'single' in 'single malt' does not refer to a barrel or batch, what does it imply? It simply means that the whisky is the product of asingle distillery and may contain whiskey from different casks from this distillery, using a single type of grain malt.
Next, let's examine the term 'malt'. It refers to the fact that the barley has been malted (i.e. soaked in water and allowed to germinate). This is less confusing because the word can only refer to the grain from which the whiskey is made. In the case of single malt, that grain is exclusively barley. 'Single malt' refers to the whiskey made solely from malted barley and water.
How is it created?
A single malt whiskey should be produced using one malted grain from one distillery.
Alcohol is made when grains are fermented with yeast. Then it is distilled using pot stills, aged in an old or new oak barrel, and blended. It can be made from a single barrel or different barrels with different ages, as long as only one distillery makes it.
Another term that can easily be confused with 'single malt' is 'single grain'. The main difference is that single grain whisky does not have to be made from malted barley. It can be produced from other grains such as wheat, corn, or rye and can be malted or unmalted. Single grain whiskies tend to be light in flavour and offer sweeter notes than the smoky tastes typical of single malt.
Single cask or single barrel is the purest form of good malt whisky. This means that the whisky in each bottle comes from one particular barrel or cask rather than being blended from multiple casks.
Distilleries often list the cask number, distillation date, and bottling on the bottles. The flavour and character of single cask whisky can vary from one bottle to the next due to factors such as cask type, ageing conditions, and storage location.
Both single malt and single cask describe a single origin of whisky. The first one is made with malted barley from a single distillery. The second means that whiskey is bottled from a single barrel or cask.
Interesting insights into single malt
It's a period of whisky maturation in oak barrels. Scotch whisky, for example, must mature for at least three years according to the regulations. Single malt whiskies are aged for at least three years before being released. Whiskey takes on the aromas and colour of the wood from which the barrel is made during maturation.
Proof – is a measure of alcohol percentage (1 proof corresponds to 0.5% alcohol). Alcohol described as 80 proof has a strength of 40%.
Most single malts are bottled at 80 proof or 40% alcohol by volume or higher. Some distilleries make single malt whiskies under 50% or 100 proof, though a few reach up to 130 proof (65%). American single malt should be bottled at not less than 80 proof.
One of the hallmark characteristics of single malt is its oaky, malty, and woody taste, with notes of vanilla, caramel, nut, and fruit.
Single malts enhance and mellow the flavour profile, making it superiorly smooth.
There are other single malts worldwide, but Scotch whisky is the best-known.
Single malt producers are found in Japan, Canada, Ireland, America, and other countries around the world. It costs more than a typical whiskey because single malt means the essence of the distillery.
It is essential to discover the many secrets of its production, origin, and taste to become a true whisky connoisseur. We hope this article has enabled you to understand some basic differences between the various bottles of this exquisite drink. By grasping these concepts, you can find your favourite whisky flavour and determine the value of a bottle from an investment perspective.