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What is a Single Cask Whisky?
A single cask whisky is a special form of single malt. We know that the single malt is blended from different maturation casks of a single distillery. This is done to keep the quality and taste at a constant level. The single malt is considered special, whether it is Scotch or Irish whiskey. Yet, with the addition of Cask, the Single is even a bit more special and, in many eyes, more valuable. We will clarify below why this is so and how this special whiskey is defined. You can buy such a specialty in their single cask store.
How is a single malt cask defined?
A single malt has to meet certain requirements. It may only be produced as malted barley and only in a distillery. Maturation takes place in different casks. The single malt is often blended from many different barrels of the distillery. This allows the quality and taste of the whiskey to be kept constant. For a cask, the same requirements as for the single malt must be met. In addition, the cask may only be bottled from one barrel. This particular type of bottling has advantages and disadvantages, as we will see in a moment.
What is the special feature of buying a single cask?
Accordingly, for a single cask whisky, only one particular cask is selected from the warehouse of a distillery. The whiskey is bottled from this single cask. The casks, even of one vintage, then differ quite significantly according to the nature of the wood of the maturation cask, according to the pre-coating as well as the location in the warehouse of the distillery. Each cask bottling is therefore unique. To draw attention to this peculiarity, the bottles are counted and numbered. It is not uncommon for the number of the bottled bottles to be printed on the label. Since only from one barrel is bottled, they are limited bottlings. Look for it once when you browse our Single Cask Shop. There is usually no difference in the production of the whiskey. As the main ingredient, malted barley is distilled in copper stills. Also the storage is basically not different. We will take a closer look at copper stills below, as they have a strong influence on the quality of a whisky.
How Pot Stills Shape Cask Whisky
Traditionally, so-called pot stills are used in Ireland and Scotland for the production of whisky. These stills are the center of every distillery in these two countries. At first glance, the copper stills look like a single piece. But they consist of many parts and their structure and shape influence the taste and quality of the whisky. Therefore, we will take a closer look at pot stills.
What characterizes a pot still?
In Scotland and Ireland, single malts and casks are distilled in pot stills, the copper stills. Copper is an excellent material for stills. The metal has very good thermal conductivity. In addition, the material has a positive influence on the quality and taste of the whiskey. The copper binds some of the unwanted compounds in the distillate. It also acts as a catalyst. In Scotland, distillation is traditionally done twice, in Ireland three times. These processes are referred to as:
- Spirit still
The third distillation is said to make the whiskey finer and softer. However, this theory is not completely proven. Since the pot stills differ significantly in size and shape from distillery to distillery, this also affects the taste and character of the whiskies.
What parts does a pot still consist of?
A pot still consists of more parts than it may appear at first glance. They are in particular:
- Kettle or pot
- Kettle lid
- connection between neck and pot
- Lyne arm
- Reflux or reflux
Crucial to the speed of distillation is the connecting piece that combines the pot and the neck. The vapors full of alcohol are passed through this piece into the neck. At its upper end, the neck merges into the Lyne arm. This feeds the alcohol vapor to the condenser. Depending on the design and position of the Lyne arm, the reflux is also affected. Experts believe that the construction and shape of the still influences the taste and quality of the whiskey to the tune of ten to twelve percent.
How does a pot still work?
It is important to note that pot stills are refilled for each distillation process. Let's take a closer look at the two distillation processes. In the first distillation process, the fermented mash is filled into the so-called wash still. The liquid is called wash. This liquid contains only a little alcohol and is enriched with numerous by-products of fermentation. These impurities must be removed during distillation. During the distillation process, the wash is heated, cooled and evaporated or condensed. During heating, the alcohol vapors rise and condense further up in the condenser by cooling. After the first distillation, the alcohol content is about 20%. This liquid is now referred to as Low Wine. The second distillation process follows. The stills for the second distillation process are called spirit stills. The aim of this distillation process is an alcohol content of 60 to 70 %. This liquid is then called high wine. If distilled a third time, the alcohol content increases to about 80%. During distillation in the copper stills, the entire spirit is never used. One divides the respective distillate into:
Only Heart is used for the whisky. Head and tail are then added to a new distillation.
What are the different types of stills?
Copper stills are basically of the same design. But there are differences from distillery to distillery, which also affect the quality of the whiskey and its taste. Since each distillery has its own pot stills, the whiskies are correspondingly unique. For example, the stills of Laphroaig in Scotland. This distillery has pot stills that are assigned by master distillers to the "Onion" still type. Onion suggests where the pot stills got this name. They strongly resemble the shape of an onion. Incidentally, seven pot stills are used at the Laphroaig distillery. They are of different sizes. In order not to change the character and taste of the Islay whiskies produced here, this distillery does not do well with changes. Things are a bit smaller at the Oban distillery. Two stills are operated here. They have a tapered shape that steepens somewhat toward the top. These stills are referred to as Lamp Glass or Lantern type. Again, the term is indicative of the shape. From a distance, they bear a strong resemblance to old lamps fired with oil. The component neck is very strongly constricted, similar to the Onion type. This greatly increases the reflux during the burning process. Very tall in shape are the pot stills from Glenmorangie. They also ensure a very special character of the whiskey from this distillery. Of course, this particular shape also has its reason. Due to the height of the stills, the different distillates can be separated excellently. In addition, so-called reflux balls ensure a better separation of the heavy and light distillates. The shape of the pot stills, together with the reflux balls, ensure that the whiskies from the Glenmorangie distillery are considered exceedingly mild and light. Another example of the different shape of the stills are the pot stills from Dingle. In these copper stills, the descending Lyne arm design is particularly striking. Dingle is an Irish distillery. It too uses reflux balls on its stills. The balls provide an increase in surface area and thus increased reflux during the distillation process. This results in a better and faster separation of light and heavy distillates. Unlike Glenmorangie's pot still, the stills at Dingle are not characterized by a rising Lyne arm. On the contrary, at Dingle the lyne arm drops towards the condenser. Distilling is done three times at Dingle.
How does the still affect the taste of whisky?
The design and shape of the copper stills is immensely important to the taste and character of a whisky. The distillation process determines whether a whiskey turns out more powerful, rather heavy or mild, light and fine. The shape of pot stills is decisive. If it is a rather squat still with little reflux, the light and heavy contents of the distillate are less well separated. As a result, the whiskey becomes more robust and powerful. If, on the other hand, it is a high still with more reflux, the whiskey usually becomes lighter and milder. This is achieved by constricting the still, by using reflux balls or by a rising Lyne arm. A combination of these measures is also possible. In any case, this includes the elongated and tall shape of the pot stills. During the distillation process, the master distiller also decides when to separate the head and tail. This decision also contributes significantly to the taste and character of the whiskey.
Maturation in Single Malt and Cask
An almost more serious difference is made in the choice of maturation casks in the production of single malt and cask whiskey. In single malt, the whiskies of different barrels are mixed to achieve the same and constant quality as possible. With the Cask this is different. This is made from only one cask. There is no blending. As a result, the qualities and flavors of even the same vintages are quite different. Does this mean that casks are the better whiskies? At first glance, one could answer this question in the affirmative. The whiskey, as a unique, from a barrel, should be superior to a blend. But this is not always the case and therefore this question should not be answered in a generalized way. Because not every cask develops during the maturation period to a high-quality whiskey, while in the blend these quality differences are balanced. Thus, both high-quality and inferior whiskies are possible with the cask. A master distiller will naturally seek out these gems and select them for use as a cask. Not every distillery offers a cask. It is, after all, a very small business with a risk. Nevertheless, the Cask is a sought-after whiskey among connoisseurs. This is especially due to the small quantities. A single malt will always be a blend. The savvy whiskey connoisseur will have already tasted a large number of Single Malts bottlings. A cask opens up a whole new range of unique variations to the connoisseur. These casks usually correspond in style and flavor to the specifics of the distillery from which they come. Nevertheless, they vary left and right of this path. The size of the cask is naturally decisive for the quantity of the cask. As a rule, the bottles are numbered. In this way, each bottle also becomes a limited edition.
Are there any disadvantages to cask whisky?
In addition to distilleries, there are also a number of bottlers who put a cask on the market. These buy one or more matured whisky in casks from a distillery. Or they buy freshly filled casks and store them with them until they are matured. These independent bottlers enrich the market. At the same time, they take a risk compared to the distillery. What if the quality of the cask is not good enough? The advantage is that the bottlers can sell the unsuccessful casks to a distillery or another bottler for further processing as a blend. However, this is a losing proposition and various bottlers often decide to sell even the not-quite-good cask as such. In our Single Cask Shop, however, you will only find high quality casks. With us you can be sure to always buy only a high quality Single Cask. An undeniable disadvantage is one of the main characteristics of the Cask: It is the small quantity of a Cask bottling. Even with a large bourbon cask used for aging, often no more than 200 bottles are obtained. If it is also a high-quality Cask, these bottlings are quickly out of stock and correspondingly expensive.
Which cask whiskies are particularly recommended?
Of course, the strict limitation on the cask ensures that there are few good casks that can be bought over a long period of time. It is therefore often difficult to get recommendations about very good casks, because they are usually already sold out. With us you can buy a very good single cask whisky. You can find our recommendations in our Single Cask Shop on delicando. However, there are some ingle cask series. These are always available, because they consist of single casks, but are bottled again and again in similar quality. These include the casks from the Glenfarclas Family series. They come from Speyside in Scotland. They are outstanding single cask bottlings. These whiskies mature in a sherry cask. This results in about 200, sometimes 250 bottles per cask. Such cask series or family casks are published under the indication of the respective vintage. Such casks are not only suitable for self-consumption. They are a wonderful and most welcome gift for any lover of whiskey. Among them are the SMWS Single Cask Whiskies. You can also buy such a Single Cask in our store. But what does SMWS mean? Behind the abbreviation SMWS is a whisky institution. It stands for Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This society has its headquarters in Edinburgh. Strictly speaking, the SMWS is a kind of club that was founded more than 40 years ago and deals exclusively with whisky. Around the world, more than 25,000 people are united in this club. Not without reason, because only as a member you can buy a SMWS Cask. The club makes a special spectacle out of the selection of the casks. Year after year, a so-called Tasting Panel selects from the society's warehouse the casks that will be bottled as casks. Of course, these are casks with a wide variety of flavors and quality. In total, the SMWS offers casks from more than 130 different Scottish distilleries. Among whisky connoisseurs also known and famous are the casks of Infrequent Flyers Single Cask Whiskies.
How to drink a single cask whisky?
Even though the cask is different from a single malt and a blend, it is drunk like a normal whisky. Its unique taste is enjoyed unadulterated, of course, when you drink it neat. But it can be enjoyed just as well with water or ice. We will be happy to advise you if you have any questions or comments about Single Cask Whisky. Or you can take a look around our Single Cask Shop and discover the great variety of casks. You can buy a Single Cask in our store safely and reliably online from the comfort of your home.