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Scotch: Single Cask, Single Malt & Blends

We know that all scotch is whisky, but not all whisky is scotch. Whiskies include Irish, Indian, Italian, French, Canadian (commonly known as Rye), Bourbon, and Tennessee Sipping Whisky. And, unsurprisingly, there are rules about what makes each of these whiskies fall into the category it does.

Which begs the question; what goes into single malt scotch?

To be considered single malt scotch the whisky must have been distilled at a single distillery located in Scotland. The distillery must use a pot still distillation process and use a mash of malted barley. As with any Scotch whisky, a single malt Scotch must be  matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years and one day. 

What's in a name?

Quite a lot actually, Scotch whisky is a heavily regulated industry which lays out legal requirements regarding what makes a Scotch a single malt, single cask, or blend.

Let's take a look at a few of the more common terms used when referring to Scotch.
  • "Malt" indicates that the whisky is distilled from a "malted" grain. While many different grains can be malted in order to create whisky, barley is the only grain which can be used to create Scotch.

  • "Single Malt" indicates that all the spirits in the bottle come from a single distillery.

    Bottlings containing malt scotch whisky from multiple (2 or more) distilleries are typically known as "blended malt". Prior to 2009, this was commonly known as "vatted malt". Well known blends include Johnny Walker Green Label, Compass Box's Spice Tree, and Monkey Shoulder.

  • "Blended Scotch" indicates that both scotch and non-barley malted grains (for example, corn, rye, wheat) were used in the bottling. Well known blends include Johnny Walker Blue Label, Chivas Regal,  Cutty Sark and the Famous Grouse.

  • "Single Cask" indicates that all of the spirits in the bottle came from a single barrel/cask. Single cask bottles are typically bottled at whatever ABV (alcohol by volume) they are when they leave the cask. The number of bottles produced is limited by the size of the cask used to mature the whisky, minus the angel's share.

Age before beauty?

The age statement on a bottle of single malt Scotch is the number of years the whisky spent maturing in casks. Very few whiskies are bottled from a single cask, and the mixing of spirits with different amounts of ageing is allowed; the age statement reflects the age of the youngest whisky in the mix.