A Curated Selection From Some Of Scotland’s Finest Distilleries
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Liquor / Chloe Jeong
Best Splurge:Lagavulin 16 Year Old at Drizly
Aged in second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, the 16-year-old expression is well worth the splurge.
Many scotch enthusiasts may discover that they’re well into their journey of appreciation before they ever actually learn what the phrase “single malt” even means. To be considered a single malt scotch, the whisky must be distilled from a mash bill of 100 percent malted barley at one distillery and aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks. Distillers are then allowed to get as creative as theyd like, from experimenting with the number of distillations to using a variety of cask finishes.
There are more than 120 distilleries in Scotland making single malt whiskymuch of which is ultimately destined to be used as a component in blended whiskies, but some of which is bottled as an individual expression of the particular distillery’s character. With a style out there for everyone, here are the best single malt scotch whiskies available in a range of categories.
The Angels Share During Maturation
Usually, the Whisky is filled into the cask with an alcohol content of 63.5%. Over the years some of the cask content evaporates through the cask walls. Alcohol is more volatile than water so it evaporates more quickly. The alcohol content of the Whisky decreases by 0.2% to 0.6% annually. The Scots call this evaporated alcohol the Angelâs Share. The fluid level decreases by 2% each year. It is measured with a square wooden ruler that has four scales on each of its four sides corresponding to the various cask sizes. The scales indicate the target level for each year. With this method, even the smallest leaks can be detected. Experienced controllers tap on the cask ends with a long-handled wooden hammer and deduce the fluid level by the resulting sound. Due to the evaporation and the absorption of flavours from the cask wood, the Whisky becomes mellower each year. Samples are taken regularly from each cask to find out when the Whisky has reached its prime. The size of the cask is important, too. Larger casks have a smaller surface in proportion to the content, and fewer flavours can be extracted from the wood. Therefore Whisky in large casks must be stored longer in order to reach the same level of maturation!
The Alcoholic Fermentation In The Washbacks
The resulting liquid is called wort. It is stored for two to four days in the wash backs until fermentation is finished. During alcoholic fermentation, the yeast strains convert the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide , an odourless and colourless gas. Beer breweries and large grain distilleries collect the CO2 for industrial use. Malt Whisky distilleries are usually too small to do that, except for Tomatin, who used to collect the CO2 from their more than 20 pot stills. The wash backs are covered with lids so no vinegar bacteria can enter and the wash back doesnât boil over. In addition, the wash backs have a horizontally rotating blade that continually cuts the foam. The wash backs are usually made from Oregon pine or cypress wood, which is especially resistant to fungi. Recently also stainless steel has been used since it doesnât have to be impregnated with chemicals or cleaned so much.
Fermentation is finished after approximately 48 to 96 hours. The âbeerââ the Scots call it wash â then has an alcohol content of 8 to 9% and is ready to be filled in the stills.
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Learn Everything You Need To Know About American Single Malt Whisky
Move over Bourbon and Scotch: the category of American single malt whisky is growing. According to the IWSR, American single malt whiskies are coming to market at increasing rates, growing 22.2% year-over-year in 2018. More and more consumers are making room in their cabinets and on their shelves for American single malt.
Craft distilleries across the United States are leaning on the new category as a way to stand out in a crowded market whereas more established distilleries are looking towards the category as a way to differentiate amongst their existing portfolio. Needless to say, its an exciting time to be an American single malt consumer and distiller.
Education around the category is still needed. There are a lot of questions out there as to what you can expect if you purchase a bottle of American single malt, from how its made, to how it might taste, and everything in between. This page has been built as both an educational guide and a deeper introduction into the category.
Bourbon Whisky Vs American Single Malt
How does American single malt whisky compare to Bourbon whisky? Due to the popularity of Bourbon in the United States, this is a question often asked at tastings while educating consumers on the American single malt category.
WHAT IS BOURBON WHISKY?
Similar to Scotch and The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, the United States has official documents that define Bourbon called The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits . For a cliff note version, Bourbon can be generalized by the following nine rules:
I like Bourbon a lot, but Im not a huge fan of whisky is something we hear repeated out in the field more often than you think. Its a testament of how popular bourbon has become. To clarify, bourbon is a type of whisky, not the other way around.
SIMILARITIES & DIFFERENCES OF BOURBON AND AMERICAN SINGLE MALT WHISKY
A TASTE COMPARISON OF BOURBON AND AMERICAN SINGLE MALT WHISKY
LEARN MORE ABOUT BOURBON: DOCUMENTARIES
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How Is Single Malt Scotch Whisky Made
Words by Simon Difford
There are over 100 different single malt whisky distilleries in Scotland, each producing their own distinctively different whiskies. However, broadly speaking they all follow the same ten distinct stages in the production of their malt whisky.
Each of the ten stages of single malt Scotch whisky production are summarised below with links to in-depth explanations and further information.
What Exactly Makes A Scotch Single Malt Single Grain Or A Blend
Whisky is a complex spirit. The array of differing classifications and rules that each type of whisky must satisfy means that no two bottles are ever the same. Previously, we have explored the differences between scotch and bourbon, but this time we will be diving deeper into the differing forms in which scotch can come. Scotch whisky can come as a single malt, a single grain and most commonly as a blend. These can often be confusing, and so in this post we will outline what exactly makes a scotch single malt, single grain or a blend.
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The Development Of Taste During Cask Maturation
The origin of the casks is crucial for the taste of the Whisky. Glenfiddich predominantly matures their Whiskies casks made from American white oak that has previously been used to mature Bourbon Whiskey. In contrast, distilleries like Macallan or Bowmore use mainly casks that held Spanish Sherry before. One Malt Whisky from Springbank became a legend: it was matured in ex-rum casks from the Caribbean and took on a green colour.
A bit less important for the taste of the Whisky is the place of maturation. The old warehouses are dark and have earth floors. The casks are stored on oak beams and are stacked on top of each other in 3 to 6 rows. Modern warehouses have concrete floors so the casks can be moved with forklifts. Until the end of the last century, the casks were stored lying on steel racks. Nowadays the casks are mostly stored upright on pallets. Whisky matures differently in the highlands than on the islands, since there are hot summers and cold, snowy winters in the highlands, while the gulf stream provides for a mild climate on the islands and at the coast.
Best Rum Cask Finish: The Balvenie Caribbean Cask
Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Brown Sugar, Caramel, Spice
Finishing whisky in a rum cask might not be as popular as sherry or wine casks within the single malt scotch category, but there are some benefits. A rum barrel brings new flavors to the mix, like banana, brown sugar and cocoa. The Balvenies Caribbean Cask 14-Year-Old Scotch is a stellar example. Everything about this whisky draws you in, says Otsuji. The ex-rum barrel finish creates a sense of richness in the flavors, like toffee or caramel, toasted oak, or perhaps a bit of honey on fresh papaya but rather than expressing itself as a sugary taste, it comes through as a luxurious textural element.
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Filling The Casks: Regulation
After the casks are filled, they are weighed to estimate the tax, which has to be paid. Then they are transported into the warehouse, where they stay at least for three years. By law, each cask must be marked with a unique number, the name of the distillery and the distillation year. This used to be done with a template and a paintbrush. However, in recent years more and more distilleries have begun to use barcodes readable only by computers. What a shame!
How To Make Malt Whiskey
Although I love a good Scotch whiskey, I must admit I dont drink it all that often. Its definitely the kind of thing I prefer to sip in the company of others. Believe it or not, before I met David, Im pretty sure I had never even tasted Scotch before. I have heard it said that you either like Scotch or you like bourbon, but not both. You probably wont be surprised to learn that I do, in fact, like bot h. Not usually at the same time, though.
Most often, Scotch is a once-a-year treat at our house. David is a big fan of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland. Burns lived in the late 1700s and died before the age of forty. In addition to being a prolific poet much loved to this day, Burns was also noted for his drinking. Burns famous poem Tam OShanter tells the memorable tale of how the narrator had been on an epic drinking binge he is now on his way home, trying to concoct a plausible explanation for his long-suffering wife. En route, he meets the devil, and much merriment ensues. Its worth buying a book of Burns poetry just for the poem To a Louse. The narrator is in church, fascinated by the sight of a louse impertinently crawling on the bonnet of one of the well-dressed society ladies sitting in front of him. But I digress.
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Vatting Dilution And Bottling
To be called a single malt whisky in Scotland, a bottle may only contain whisky distilled from malted barley and produced at a single distillery. The regulations of other countries may allow malted rye.
If the bottle is the product of malt whiskies produced at more than one distillery, the whisky is called a blended malt or vatted malt, or pure malt. If a single malt is mixed with grain whisky, the result is a blended whisky. Single malts can be bottled by the distillery that produced them or by an independent bottler.
The age statement on a bottle of single malt whisky is the age of the youngest malt in the mix, as commonly the whiskies of several years are mixed in a vat to create a more consistent house style. On occasion, the product of a single cask of whisky is bottled without being vatted with other casks, and released as a “Single Cask” offering. However, it is not always clear what the term “single cask” refers to. At least some producers release vattings of multiple barrels that have been matured together for one final period in a larger single cask as “single cask” whisky.
While cask strength, or undiluted, whisky has recently become popular, the vast majority of whisky is diluted to its “bottling strength” – between 40% and 46% ABV – and bottled for sale.
The Legal Definition Of Scotch Whisky
Scotch whisky has been defined in UK law since 1909 and recognized in EC legislation since 1989. The current UK legislation relating specifically to Scotch whisky is the Scotch Whisky Act 1988 and the Orders made under it, which came into effect in June 1990 and superseded that part of the Finance Act, as subsequently amended, defining Scotch Whisky. For the purposes of the Scotch Whisky Act 1988, Scotch whisky means whisky:
That has been produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley all of which have been
processed at that distillery into a mash
converted to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems
fermented only by the addition of yeast.
That has been distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 98.4 per cent so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production
That has been matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres, the period of that maturation being not less than three years
That retains the colour, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation, and to which no other substance other than water and spirit caramel has been added.
It can be seen that the only raw material expressly specified is malted barley. Its use is a legal requirement.
Ross Aylott, in, 2003
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What Happens After The Distilling Process Is Completed
Once distilling is complete, the new spirit is put into wooden casks. Now it’s time for the hardest part – the waiting game. The whisky is matured in bourbon or sherry oak casks for a minimum of three years before it can legally be called Scotch whisky. Many whiskies are matured for much longer often for a decade or more. Slumbering in dark, damp warehouses were, over the years, the wood of the casks and the surrounding atmosphere gives the whisky its colour character and just some of its natural flavours. Using his trained palate, the master distiller will decide when the maturing whiskey is ready and fit for finishing.
While the basic distillation processes are the same across Scotland, subtle variations in ingredients and the micro-climate can change the characteristics of a whisky. Local preferences and technique, and even the shape and size of the stills at different distilleries all contribute to the huge range of flavours. These characteristics can vary from region to region. Lowland whiskies are known for the delicate malty citrusy character. While Highland whiskies tend to be more robust with nutty notes and hints of honey. If the distillery is near the sea the whisky can have some salty maritime influences creep in like Old Pulteney. Speyside is renowned for its fruity single malts like The Glenlivet.
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What Is Malt Liquor
Perhaps youve read that one of your favorite beverages is in fact a flavored malt beverage . Malt liquor is made similarly to beer, only often with grains that are less expensive than barley, such as corn, and without the addition of hops. Malt liquor is stripped of its color and scent and then combined with other flavors. Hard seltzers are in fact not malt liquors theyre made from fermented sugar, not grains.
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How To Drink Single Malt Whiskey
Typically, single malt whiskey is reserved for sipping straight, especially those at the luxury level, primarily because of the higher price. It may be served on the rocks or with a splash of soda or water. Single malts do make a very nice cocktail, though. If you are comfortable with mixing the single malt in your bar, do so because it will produce an excellent high-end cocktail. No matter the whiskey, the most important consideration is that you, as the drinker, enjoy how it’s served.
Best Under $: The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
Courtesy of Reserve Bar
Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Citrus, Vanilla
The Glenlivets 12-year-old expression is extremely popular, and for good reason. Its priced affordably and has a really approachable palate, according to Chris Dempsey, bartender at Xaman in Dallas. Its not too peaty, and its really the best everyday drinking whisky for a great price, he says.
The whisky was matured in a combination of American and European oak and is a good entry-level bottle for those who dont want to spend too much but are looking for something with complexity of flavor.
Region: Highlands |ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Almond, Baking Spice
This is a classic Highlands whisky and is an interesting look at one of the whiskies that makes up the much better-known Dewars White Label.
A major malt component of the Dewars blend comes from Aberfeldy, a distillery that has been around since the beginning of the 20th century. The 12-year-old expression is a great value single malt, usually available for somewhere between $30 and $40. For that relatively low price, the discerning drinker is rewarded with flavor-rich, syrupy notes of honey punctuated by bursts of vanilla and paired with a gentle spice undercurrent.
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