There is a substantial variety of types, flavour profiles, and distilling methods in the whisky world. Without a proper understanding of your options, it can be challenging to decide which whisky to choose.
Many beginner whisky drinkers are at least familiar with two types of whisky – the single malt and blended whisky. A common misconception is that single malt whisky is not a type of blend, when in fact, it is a very particular type of blend. And what is a single cask whisky?
In this article, we’ll break down the difference between single malt whisky and single cask, so you know just what you’re getting the next time you purchase a bottle.
How Are They Different?
Blended whisky, the most common type of whisky, is precisely what it sounds like – multiple malt whiskies and grain whiskies, often from different distilleries, mixed together to form a distinct and uniform flavor profile.
So how are single malt and single cask whiskies made, and what’s the difference?
Single Malt Whisky
Single malt whisky/whiskey (the spelling is different depending on the location) is a particular type of blend that uses different malt whiskies created in a single distillery from malted barley.
Each whisky produced is generally unique in flavor, so distilleries combine the malt whiskies to provide a consistent house style flavor.
Single malts are generally very rich with unique flavor profiles depending on the distillery, its region, and the distillery’s process.
Unlike regular blended whisky, single malt isn’t combined with grain whisky, so they tend to have a deeper flavor profile and are often used to add body to blends.
Single malts are typically made in copper stills and matured in oak barrels, and, by law, they must be bottled at 40% ABV or higher.
Single Cask Whisky
Single cask whisky/whiskey comes from a single cask and is not blended with any other whisky. The result is an inconsistent, yet truly unique flavor profile that you won’t find in any other bottle.
Because of this, not many single cask whiskies are created from a batch. Single cask whisky is somewhat rare and therefore can be quite expensive.
Since it won’t be blended with any other whiskies, distillers must keep a close eye on it and taste test it to find the right time to bottle.
Some single cask whisky is also sold at cask strength. Most whisky is diluted with water when bottling, but cask strength whisky is undiluted and contains as much as 60 to 70% ABV.
Which Whisky is Best?
So single cask vs. single malt whisky – which is better? Honestly, the answer is not that simple.
Some whisky purists will insist that a single cask is the only way to go as it’s the purist process of distilling, and they frown upon other whiskies that are blended in any way.
Some people further insist that cask strength is superior as it gives you complete control over how much you dilute your whisky.
Single malt is probably the most popular among connoisseurs for its high-quality and full-bodied flavor at a slightly more favorable price point. Single malt and blended whiskies are the most commonly recognized among the general public.
The answer truly comes down to personal preference.
What to Consider When Choosing a Whisky
If you’re new to whisky, it can be overwhelming considering your options. Many factors come in to play when creating and choosing a unique whisky. Consider these factors when deciding on your next bottle or dram.
What Experience Are You Seeking?
Are you looking for a truly unique experience, where there are very few bottles like the one you’re holding?
If so, a single cask whisky may be the right choice for you.
No two casks or barrels will ever produce the same whisky. There is a massive combination of factors at play that determine the end result of a whisky, and buying a single cask whisky will guarantee that yours is unique.
A consistent, high-quality flavor profile
Would you prefer a high-quality flavor profile that is consistent from bottle to bottle and always delivers?
If your answer is yes, then single malt is the way to go.
Each barrel at a distillery produces a unique flavor. To create single malt whisky, distillers come up with a tried and true recipe using hundreds of their barrels to create the perfect single malt. By blending, distillers are able to avoid changes in flavor, so you know what you’re getting.
And if you have a favorite single malt, you can rest assured that each bottle you buy will taste as good as the last.
How much are you looking to spend on your whisky? Prices will vary between distilleries, but in general, single cask whisky will cost more than a single malt.
Barrel Type and Region
The type of wood barrels used for aging the whisky will significantly impact the flavor profile, and so will the region it comes from.
Depending on the type of wood, whiskey can develop undertones like vanilla, spices, sherry, and fruit.
The region plays a large part in the flavor profile of a whisky as well. For instance, a true scotch will vary widely depending on the particular area of Scotland from which it was produced.
For example, a whisky from Speyside will generally be more mellow and fruity, while a whisky from Highland is often more full-bodied and smoky.
It’s Time to Grab a Glass
As you can see, it’s not really a case of which is better between single cask vs. single malt whisky. It’s more about personal flavor preference and experience.
If you’re a new whisky drinker or are looking to venture past blended whiskies, an excellent place to start is with a single malt. You’ll enjoy all the benefits of a distinctive and consistent flavor profile at a decent price point.
Many factors dictate the value of a whisky, and the bottom line is that the whisky that tastes the best to you is the best.