The two categories in whisky are often discussed and enjoyed, but many do not know that the two are completely different. To confuse you, as single cask whisky is a single malt, and a single malt is made out of single casks. A single malt is “blended” together, but is not a blended whisky. As you can see, the whisky world can get quite confusing, but we’re here to make it all clear. Let’s jump in.
Single Malt Whisky
The easiest way to look at the terms is word by word. What does the term “single” mean? The word single stands for a single distillery; not a single barrel, cask, or batch. Therefore, a Single malt whisky must be produced at one, single distillery. A single cask must, also, be produced at one distillery. The term single in whisky speaks to the fact the whisky was made at one distillery. It can mature elsewhere and be moved, but distillation of the whisky within the bottled must take place at one distillery.
Next we look at the world “malt”. This mean that the whisky must be made 100% from malted barley. Not corn that’s used in bourbon, not wheat or others grains, only malted barley. A single grain can contain other grain whiskies, but again, from one distillery
The final and most important note: A single malt whisky is a marriage of many different casks and barrels, made at a single distillery. The Age Statement on a bottle, for example, Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old, Macallan 18-Year-Old, states the youngest cask in the bottle. There can be older vintages in the “mixture” of single malts but, by law, the bottle needs to state the youngest one. As it is a marriage of many casks, a Single Malt whisky release is usually no less than several thousand bottles.
Single Cask Whisky
Starting from wording, as we’ve learned, the work single tells us the cask has been produced at a single distillery. The term cask or barrel says that this release comes entirely from one cask or barrel of whisky. For this reason, while single malt releases launch with thousands of bottles available, a single cask whisky will have 200 to 600 bottles available, depending on the type of cask the whisky comes from. This limited number of bottles often makes single cask releases rarer and harder to find.
The term single cask/barrel speaks to the distillery and container of the whisky as opposed to the grains used in production. This means there can be a single barrel bourbon, single barrel rye, single cask malt whisky, and so on.
There you have it, a close look at what makes a single malt whisky and a single bask whisky what they are. Hopefully, you can now speak more confidently about whisky and differentiate some of the major categories in the industry. Next up, blended whisky! Stay tuned.