What is single cask whisky?
A Single cask, or single barrel whisky, is any whisky produced from aging in a single barrel without blending. Confusingly the name single cask whisky is also given to whiskies that mature over several barrels sequentially. Which is to say what a whisky may be aged in and seasoned by several casks and still be called a single cask, so long as it is not the result of mixing the content of different casks together. While it is not guaranteed, most single cask whiskies are non-chill filtered, without caramel and bottled at cask strength.
Within the world of whisky single malts are generally seen as the upper echelon of Scottish whiskies, for enthusiasts however the single cask whisky wears the crown. While single malts are the result of the married of many different barrels from a single distillery, under the control of a master blender. In contrast a single cask whisky is in principle the sole contents of a single whisky barrel and thus totally unique.
What Is a Cask Strength Whisky?
Almost every distillery now has a cask strength bottling. This means that the matured whisky is bottled directly from the barrel, without first being “diluted” with water to bottling strength.
Single Cask Legislation
The problem with single cask bottlings is that the term single cask is not precisely defined or subjected to any legal regulations. Consequently a whiskey could mature in another barrel beforehand, then decanted and still be declared as a single cask of the barrel type. Likewise it would still be legally acceptable to transfer three smaller barrels into a single larger barrel and then bottle this as a single cask.
Single cask releases are by their nature very limited release. Whisky casks generally range in size from around 500 litre all the way down to the Quarter Cask of only 80 litres. Larger barrels such as the Gorda (700 liters) were historically used in the American whiskey industry, though these are all but exinct and only ever seen as blending vessels. Likewise the 50 litre Bloodtub is the smallest cask used in Scotland, however in practice very few distilleries use these for maturation.
The American Standard Barrel (ASB), 53 US gallons, 200 lires, or 44 imperial gallons, is the most common in use across Scotland, followed by the hogshead, or ‘hoggie’ though sherry butts are often used as well. In addition to cask size the exact number of bottles available from a single cask vary, being determined by level of dilution, length of maturation and the climate in which maturation took place. Without accounting for evaporation the ASB contains 267.5 75cl bottles of whisky, more if this is reduced to 40% ABV.
It’s outwith the scope of this article to talk about the full range of cask types available to choose from however a number of factors come into play when choosing a cask for maturation. Smaller casks have a greater surface to liquid area and as a rule offer faster maturation than larger casks. Likewise decisions are often made basedon the previous content of the liquid, while bourbon barrels are predominantly used a large number of Sherry butts, port and wine casks are also used. In recent years experimentation with rum casks, Japanese mizunara oak and in Ireland Chetnut casks have become popular as well.
In a smaller barrel, the greater the contact between wood and whisky. As a result, the wood can give off more aromas and colour to the whisky, however this increased liquid to wood ratio can also lead to overly sharp and pronounced woody. Depending on the desired result, distilleries have to carefully weigh up which casks to choose for their storage, decide on the aromas and flavours they’re looking for and then determine the length of the possible storage time until bottling.
The bottles from a single cask are usually numbered consecutively. The number is noted on the label. In addition, there is usually information about the barrel number, type, distillation and filling date.
Single casks are only available in limited quantities. As with vintage whiskeys, the quality can fluctuate. After all, every barrel has its own flavors. But that also makes every single cask something very special. You hardly get any more individuality. Often only the most extraordinary and best whiskeys are brought out as single cask. Unfortunately, there is also a disadvantage that the taste is of course not 100 percent reproducible. So it may be that you come across the whiskey of your life here, but you can never drink it in that form again.
What is the difference between single cask and single malt?
A single malt whisky is a whisky made at a single distillery, but is a blend or vatting of casks. A single cask in contrast indicates that the whisky was sourced from only a single barrel.
Why is single cask Whisky so expensive?
Single cask whiskies are more expensive for two reasons: rarity, and alcohol strength. Single casks are rare bottlings of at most a few hundred bottlings, usually these are targetted to enthusiasts and feature unusual ages or cask types for the distillery. Single casks are also usually bottled at cask strength which means a higher tax must be paid due to the higher alcohol content.
What is the difference between single cask and double cask?
A single cask is a whisky which was bottled from a single cask, a double cask indicates a secondary maturation more commonly called a cask finish. Single cask whiskies can also be finished and still called single cask.
Is single cask whisky better?
Single cask whiskies are often more popular among whisky enthusiasts who prefer these because of their higher alcohol content, unique flavour and lack of colouring and filtration. Most whisky enthusiasts will gravitate to single cask but this is a very subjective preference and single casks qualities are far more varied.
Is single cask the same as cask strength?
No. single casks are usually bottled at cask strength but this is not always the case. Whisky can also be bottled at cask strength without being sourced from a single cask.