A Look Into Single Malt Whiskey
Single malt whiskey can be made anywhere in the world, including Japan, Taiwan, India, Australia, Sweden, America, and Italy. It’s most closely associated with Scotland, though, in which case it’s a single malt whisky. Even though a single malt must be made from barley, flavor profiles vary extensively based on how and where its produced. We’ll take a look at single malt whiskey production, its distinctions from other types of whiskeys, and how you can get your hands on a uniquely-curated bottle below.
What is Single Malt Whiskey?
Single malt whiskey is made with malted barley in pot stills at a single distillery. Each distillery aims to achieve specific flavors that showcase its signature style, built by each step of the process – malting, fermenting, distilling, and aging.
That’s the general definition, but what does each word mean?
Single: The word ‘single’ in single malt whiskey shows us that the spirit was produced at a single distillery. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it comes from a single barrel or cask but is usually blended from several barrels. You’ll notice the age statement on the bottle, but that number refers to the youngest whiskey in the mix. For example, a 10-Year-Old Single Malt tells us that the youngest whisky is 10 years old but may also contain much older liquid.
Malt: ‘Malt’ refers to how barley is steeped, germinated, and dried before distillation, and a single ‘malt’ is made using only malted barley as a grain. The barley can come from anywhere, but each single malt is defined by the country in which it’s made. So, for example, if barley is sourced in the United States, but is distilled and matured in a single distillery in Canada, then it’s a Canadian Single Malt.
Whiskey: Of course, this refers to the main category of spirits made from fermented grain mashes. To make a whiskey, barley is ground down and added to spring water. Then it’s heated, converting to sugar before dissolving into a sweet liquid called wort. The wort is drained, cooled, and passed into wash-backs, which is heated and placed in copper pot stills for its first distillation, and a second time in spirit stills. While whiskey is generally distilled twice, Irish whiskey has a long history of triple-distilling. The spirit is then batched in casks with spring water and matured for at least three years but generally more than ten. Here, we go into more depth about how whiskey is made.
How Does it Taste?
Single Malt Whiskey is often described as refined or sophisticated. But the flavor profile depends significantly on where it was produced, how it was aged (how long and in what types of barrels), and how a brand wants its whiskey to taste. In general, whiskey features oaky, woody, roasted grainy flavors. It may have caramel, vanilla, fruity, or nutty notes as well. But a single malt’s flavor characteristics will be heightened while also mellowing them out, offering a smooth sipping experience.
How is a Single Malt Different From Blended Whiskey?
We’ve established that a single malt comes from a single distillery. But a blended whiskey is called so when a malt whiskey is mixed from liquid distilled at more than one distillery. The blending takes place with a master blender, who ensures the taste of the blend remains consistent throughout by sampling various malts and grain whiskies and combines them in a cask to mature. Compared to single malt, blended whiskey is not as strong, but it’s more diverse and less expensive, making it easier to find a brand that makes a smooth drinking whiskey.
Featured by Taster’s Club
Did you happen to see in the news that a bottle of 60-year-old The Macallan 1926 set a record at auction last year when it sold for more than $1.5 million? We may not curate selections as rare as this, but we do feature some really delicious Single Malt Whiskeys in our Whiskey and Scotch Clubs. Here are some of our favorites.
COPPERWORKS DISTILLING CO. CASK STRENGTH SINGLE MALT WHISKEY – TASTER’S CLUB RELEASE
This is a rich mahogany whiskey crafted specifically for Taster’s Club from four of Copperworks’ best available casks. Although single casks whiskeys are often highly touted and marketed as the pinnacle of whiskey, distillers can also mix 2 to 8 casks together for a truly unique release. The Taster’s Club Release was created from 4 casks of Copperworks’ Pale Malt recipe (essentially a high-quality Pale Ale without hops). The whiskey was aged for 38 months in char #3, new American Oak casks from Kelvin Cooperage, and bottled at 55% ABV (110 Proof). The nose opens with cedar, coffee cake, streusel, and citrus pith. Flavors include ginger snap, orange zest, and mango rind, leading to a bright finish of melon, walnuts, and leather.
MACALLAN CLASSIC CUT 2020 EDITION SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
This is a higher-strength single malt Scotch created to deliver a full and heightened flavor- perfect for any home bar collection. As the fourth edition in the Classic Cut limited annual series, the 2020 release demonstrates The Macallan’s continuous quest to seek the extraordinary and offers a remarkable flavor journey of discovery. First, you’ll detect a vanilla aroma with candied orange peel and honey, sweet sultana, and raisin with fresh oak and thyme. There’s a ginger warmth, sweet orange, vanilla, and honey with fresh, vibrant oak on the palate. The finish is sweet and zingy, which travels through to lingering fresh thyme. The Macallan Classic Cut 2020 Edition was created to reveal the fascinating role of ex-bourbon American oak casks within The Macallan’s portfolio, and we think they did a smashing job.
BALCONES TEXAS SINGLE MALT WHISKEY
This bottle of Balcones Texas Single Malt Whiskey, part of the distillery’s Single Barrel Private Selection Program. The contrast from one barrel to the next highlights the unique blend of raw materials and processes combined with the climate in Waco, Texas. The Texas Single Malt Whisky ages in various new and used American, French, and Hungarian oak barrels. This variety in barrel character combined with the copper pot stills yields complex flavors with intense palate-density. Non-chill filtered, this preserves the rich oils and esters straight out of the cask for pure, unadulterated Texas whiskey. It was even named the Best Whiskey in the World at the 2012 London Best in Glass competition!
TULLIBARDINE MURRAY MARSALA FINISH SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
This is a new limited-edition release in the Marquess Collection. This expression was first distilled in 2006 and was bottled following extra-maturation in sweet Sicilian marsala wine casks that the Tullibardine team has specially sourced. The total aging appears to be about 12 years, though it’s not specified. It was bottled in 2018 at 46% ABV. This single malt is a rose-tinged appearance with oaky and spicy aromas on the nose, including vanilla, ginger, red wine, and walnuts. The flavors are reminiscent of plump summer fruits, malted biscuits, and chewy strawberry candy, plus coffee and cloves. A creamy orange flavor and dark chocolate linger on the finish.