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The term 'single malt'

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The term 'single malt'

Postby Simplicio » Mon Sep 11, 2006 11:22 am

Does anyone think that the term 'single malt' has become a misleading and somewhat fetishistic term ?

What I have in mind is that 'single malt' excludes many Irish whiskies (Greenspot and Redbreast, to be precise), yet technically includes such 'single malts' as Old Potrero (the single malt rye produced in California). I don't think anyone really has whiskies like Old Potrero in mind when they think of single malt, yet there is no reason to exclude it based on the term alone (MJ reviews it in his malt whisky book!). Surely Irish potstill whiskies and SMW share a common character. Yet they cannot be included together, because, although they are 'single', they are not 'malts'.

I think this makes little sense. People primarily differentiate single malts from blended whiskies, not from vatted whiskies or grain whiskies, or even potstill whiskies, which are little known to the average consumer, I should think.

Neither the words 'single' nor 'malt' are necessary to make this distinction. Not 'single', because the real distinction between SMW and blends is not the number of distillieries that go into making the drink, but the fact that there is no grain whisky in SMW. And not 'malt', because, again, the main idea is that it is not grain whisky.

I notice that on the carton that comes with Redbreast 12, they, surely influenced by the SMSW phenomenon, take the trouble to point out that it is a 'single'. Now, Jameson NAS is also strictly speaking a 'single', for the Midelton distillery also distills grain whisky, and everything in the Jameson comes from Midelton! In fact I believe that it is correct to say that every whisky produced by Irish Distillers is a 'single', and I think this may hold for Cooley too.

It also states that it is 'unblended'; but then again so are Single Grain whiskies. But they can't call it a malt; so essentially there is no way of clearly and simply indicating exactly what kind of whisky it is, other than calling it 'pure potstill'; but then again so are all SMSWs, as well as Old Potrero and Forty Creek, the Canadian rye, if you take the term literally.

So, perhaps we should just speak of 'barley whisk(e)y' or 'pure barley whisk(e)y' to make it clear that we are not talking about blends or whiskies made from other grains. It's not a romantic term, but it is more accurate.

In other words: 'single' has little meaning outside of the Scotch whisky industry (and is even a bit unnecessary within it), and 'malt' is a too narrow term which has become too trendy, and just might dissuade interest from other whiskies that are just like single malts in that they are barley whiskies.
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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Mon Sep 11, 2006 11:51 am

The Single is pointing out that it's made in a single Distillery and Malt is the actual content. SO it's a single Distillery Malt nothing more nothing less.

But I kind of agree with you in a way. But unfortunately the term Single Malt has been the stick to beat us into submission for all that stands for quality in whisky. Further this is something that will never be changed and you'll have to accept that as this is the golden egg that layed the Goose :wink:


It is up to us to decide what is good and what is not and not be swayed by a single malt tag as opposed to a blend tag. And if you like Irish, jameson 12 & 18yos prove that point as do many other superior blends.
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 11, 2006 12:05 pm

Some people call these Irish whiskeys vattings, as they're all from the same distillery, and they include very few whiskeys. The inclusion of grain, however, means they can't be called single malt.

As an aside, Redbreast 12 is made from three different pot still whiskeys. One sherried one and two bourbon casked ones. Or maybe it's two sherried... Anyway, there's a very strong sherry influence off one - and this is subdued by the others. I was luck enough to taste the three individually at cask strength.
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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Mon Sep 11, 2006 1:28 pm

Aidan wrote:...........As an aside, Redbreast 12 is made from three different pot still whiskeys. One sherried one and two bourbon casked ones. Or maybe it's two sherried... Anyway, there's a very strong sherry influence off one - and this is subdued by the others. I was luck enough to taste the three individually at cask strength.


How did you manage that you lucky sod....

What were they like ... was the sherry cask very sherry heavy ??? ..... very curious about the bourbon potstill though.

Just goes to show how much more Bourbon barrels are being used.
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 11, 2006 1:46 pm

They were aged between 12 and 13 and a half, i think. The sherry was very interesting, although it was a bit too strong, sherrywise. It was nice to take a sip of it. Then there was a second or third fill bourbon barrel and a first fill bourbon barrel. They were more drinkable as a whiskey in themselves.

I tasted them at a tasting with Barry Walsh. We mixed our own redbreast...
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Postby Simplicio » Mon Sep 11, 2006 2:23 pm

irishwhiskeychaser wrote:Further this is something that will never be changed and you'll have to accept that as this is the golden egg that layed the Goose :wink:


I don't expect anything to change, nor do I really want it to - I just think that some people, for example the Maltmadness people (or I guess that would simply mean the editor himself, J. van den Heuvel) seem to think that if it doesn't say single and malt on it, it automatically goes into the 'other' category.

Also I find it bizzare that MJ should include reviews of what are basically rye whiskies in his Malt Companion/Guide To Single Malt Scotch and and yet exclude potstill whiskies because of what seems to me to be a terminological technicality ...
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Sep 11, 2006 2:50 pm

But your own proposed terminology would make no distinction between Cardhu pure malt (i.e. a vatting of anything they could get their hands on) and Cardhu single malt (i.e. whisky made by Cardhu)
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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Mon Sep 11, 2006 2:58 pm

Their Loss our gain, Simplicio... if people are biased towards Single Malts it's a shame really. I suppose that's what shocked me when I first started reading a few scotch sites and some forums. Thats why I like this forum people are more balanced (of course I'm not talking mentally, that has a lot to be desired here :lol: ).

I can sometimes see their point though (but I don't agree) that as a dedicated Single Malt fan you can spend your whole life trying all the different variants leaving little time for anything else. However not wanting to know what else there is is very sad in ways... I've had several Single malts that I'd run a mile from... not that they are bad but I just don't like them. I still love to return to a potstill or a decent Jameson Blend. But I suppose another issue is the lack of availiblity & variety in Irish which does not help. And simply sometimes you either get bourbon/American Whiskey or you don't.
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 11, 2006 4:01 pm

Most of the people who really like Irish whiskey (apart from myself and Adrian!) just go ahead and drink it. They don't talk about it much and don't really care what people think about it or the fact that they drink it. In some ways, that's a really nice thing about Irish whiskey. It is very unpretentious, but it can also be a brilliant product. There's much less bull surrounding it.
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Postby Simplicio » Mon Sep 11, 2006 4:23 pm

Nick Brown wrote:But your own proposed terminology would make no distinction between Cardhu pure malt (i.e. a vatting of anything they could get their hands on) and Cardhu single malt (i.e. whisky made by Cardhu)


I hope I don't give Diageo any ideas :shock:

I suppose Cardhu single malt could be called a 'single barley'.:roll:

I'm not really seriously proposing any changes. 'Barley whisky' is as inept sounding as 'corn whisky'. I just think that when people started talking about 'malt whisky' (as opposed to blended whisky) they didn't mean to stress the malt aspect so much as the barley aspect... and perhaps 'malt' has a nicer ring to it than 'barley'... but this has perhaps led to an undue emphasis on the word 'malt'. And at any rate potstill has quite a lot of malted barley in it as well.

And yes, I guess all the more for those who like it!
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Sep 11, 2006 4:23 pm

Irish whiskey does have an image problem, but lamenting the success of the "single malt" label is not the way forward. I think the onus is on Irish Whiskey to create a distinctive image of itself and its own terminology to indicate quality. To my mind, Irish distilleries that create and market "single malts" are simply lending credibility to the (misguided) notion that Scotch single malt is the only drink in town. "Irish single malt" sounds, to me, like claiming to be "almost as good as Scotch".

As long as Ireland makes so many whiskies from so few distilleries, mixing and matching, it will find it hard to create an image of quality. So marketing as "pure pot still" or even "single pot still" with a variety of age statements at affordable prices might help. Most people don't know that Irish whiskey uses a mix of malted and unmalted barley - and this could be held up as a virtue.

There is plenty that can be done without needing to copy Scotland, but you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. You need to distinguish between Paddy / Tullamore Derv type whiskies and the Green Spots and Redbreasts. There may be an element of rough justice if Jameson gets lumped in with the Paddy rather than the Green Spot, but if that encourages a Jameson's Single Pot Still, so much the better.

All IMHO - of course.
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 11, 2006 4:34 pm

I was at a market research thingy for Irish Distillers. They are gonig to repackage their range and add a new whiskey to it. Hopefully it will improve the image.

I don't really know what Bushmills can do other than market itself as an Irish single malt, because that's what it is. It's been producing it for a "long" time too.

Cooley confuses things by calling some of its malts "pure pot still", when it's not, in the proper sense of the term.

Anyway, I think the image of irish whiskey is slowly changing - hence the increased product line for all the Irish distilleries.
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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Mon Sep 11, 2006 4:52 pm

I agree with you nick on the Image & onus issue with Irish Whiskey. And I don't think Jameson helps by flogging Jameson all over the world with out promoting/educating about all aspects of Irish Whiskey which would include Pot Still. This may change in the near future as Aidan says but we'll wait and see...

In relation to Single malts .... how does a new company like Cooley reach a market that is hung up on Single Malts. The only way is sell their's as single malts too. They are not doing a bad job of it so far eventhough they have made a good few mistakes. Remember Single Malt is not only the preserve of the Scotch Whiskey Industry and has been made in Ireland for Centuries also. Eventhough Single Malt Scotch has been around that long it is relatively new from a leader of the market point of view (20-30 years) and has become a phenominum in that short period.

Cooley I believe are doing right thing as it increases the awareness of irish Whiskey to a section that may not look at anything else but Single Malts. But yes I'd love to see PotStill become a bigger animal but we can only hope.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Sep 11, 2006 5:21 pm

There is a debate to be had, but I think Cooley isn't promoting Irish whiskey to people who are hung up on malts - they are actually promoting imitation Scotch to people who are hung up on malts. That will harm Irish whiskey as it persuades people like the malt maniacs that Irish single malts exist and that these are the echt whiskies - therefore please not to bother with the pot stills and blends.

You're right that Bushmills is in a harder position as they have made malts for a "long" time - although they intended Black Bush to remain their premier brand whenever they launched the 10yo. They could, perhaps, talk about being the bridge between Irish and Scotch, just as Fionn mac Cumhaill used the nearby Giant's Causeway as the bridge from Ireland to Scotland.

Irish whiskey can succeed with its own distinctive terminology - just as American whiskey has done. If it tries to piggyback on Scotch, it will always be perceived to be second best.
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 11, 2006 10:26 pm

C&C, which I think markets Tullamore Dew, has had massive success with Magners in the U.K. with thier advertising campaign. I wonder if Irish Distillers or C&C marketed their spirits in a simalar way, would they see the increases in sales seen with Magners cider. Maybe there are laws against advertising spirits on TV.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Sep 12, 2006 9:46 am

For the sake of Irish whiskey, I hope they don't try to market Tullamore Derv. You need to focus on quality.

It is OK in the UK to advertise spirits on TV - I remember Bushmills were one of the first when the law changed to allow it - lines sung from She Moved Through The Fair accompanied by pictures of Irish looking people (presumably not residents of Bushmills!) drinking the stuff.
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Postby Aidan » Tue Sep 12, 2006 10:10 am

I'd agree with that - I was really just using it as an example. Tullamore Dew 12 is very good, however.

I never saw those ads in Ireland. Maybe we're not allowed look at spirits ads, considering we get your TV too. Maybe they just think they don't have to market alcohol to Irish people.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Sep 13, 2006 10:40 pm

"Malt" is generally understood to mean malted barley. In the motherland, folks simply refer to "malts" rather than "single malts".
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