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Question on Single Cask/Barrel Whiskeys

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Question on Single Cask/Barrel Whiskeys

Postby zl725 » Wed Apr 13, 2011 10:28 am

So from what I have gathered so far, the blender vats a number of different casks together create the desired result in most releases; with or without age statement.

But what happens to single cask/barrel whiskies?
Do single cask whiskeys age alone and not interact with any other cask?
If so, does that mean the distillate just gets left there in the cask from day 1 until it is deemed good enough to be bottled?
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Re: Question on Single Cask/Barrel Whiskeys

Postby The Third Dram » Wed Apr 13, 2011 1:04 pm

Short answer... "Yes."
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Re: Question on Single Cask/Barrel Whiskeys

Postby DaleNY » Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:57 pm

LOL at The Third Dram. Reading this succinct comment, I almost decided to say nothing else. However, there are a couple points I feel are worthwhile pointing out.

As for single malt, some of the bigger producers may vat 20-30 thousand liters at a time for their base official bottlings. These whiskies are essentially blends constructed from up to a couple hundred casks from the distiller.

It can be argued these are good expressions of the distiller's spirit because you're seeing their spirit across a wide range of casks. It can also be argued that they're poor expressions of the distiller's spirit similarly as any malt's unique character is lost in any blend. I generally hold the opinion of the latter.

One of the reasons single cask whiskies are often more revered, IMHO, is because they are purer expressions the distiller's spirit, assuming the cask is good. Sure, they are by nature more rare, sometimes more expensive... At least, I like them because I'm always trying to understand the distiller's spirit and I don't have the ability to try every distiller's new make spirit (though I'm working on this).

A single cask bottling of a distiller's spirit aged in Bourbon cask compared to a single cask bottling of the same distiller's spirit in sherry cask is not only a good way to learn about wood differences but also a good way to begin understanding the distiller's spirit. Of course, the bottlings need to be about the same age - and there are a million other influence at play. However, compared to a vatting of 200 casks, 200 million influences... you get my point!

IMHO, the best whiskies I've had are single cask expressions and expressions from very narrow vattings (just a few casks) , and non-chill filtered bottlings, though I've surely had some very pleasing mass-vatted and chill filtered drams. I tend to lean toward affecting a purer form in my drinking, as I believe it aids understanding.

For example, if you can have and experience like comparing the official bottling of Glenlivet 21 against Gordon & Macphail's Glenlivet 21 bottling, I would be remiss to think you couldn't identify differences. I've done this for a class of 14 people, in which we tasted both blind, even I didn't know which was which, and 14 out of 14 picked the G&M bottling as the better of the two. The smaller vatting just yielded more about the spirit.
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Re: Question on Single Cask/Barrel Whiskeys

Postby bredman » Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:09 pm

DaleNY wrote:It can be argued these are good expressions of the distiller's spirit because you're seeing their spirit across a wide range of casks. It can also be argued that they're poor expressions of the distiller's spirit similarly as any malt's unique character is lost in any blend. I generally hold the opinion of the latter.

One of the reasons single cask whiskies are often more revered, IMHO, is because they are purer expressions the distiller's spirit, assuming the cask is good. Sure, they are by nature more rare, sometimes more expensive... At least, I like them because I'm always trying to understand the distiller's spirit and I don't have the ability to try every distiller's new make spirit (though I'm working on this).

I don't think it's that simple. What is key here is "Distillery Character". Larger vattings should show the true nature of the distillery's produce at any given age (the fact that many distilleries then hide this with added colour and chill-filtration is another argument). Single casks can show a large variation in flavour and quality and there is value in experiencing this variation. But it should be remembered that only the better casks are picked for single cask releases (although mistakes are made), the poorer casks will be sent to blenders or dumped into large vattings.
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Re: Question on Single Cask/Barrel Whiskeys

Postby The Third Dram » Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:16 pm

To further elaborate on bredman's response...

DaleNY wrote:It can be argued these are good expressions of the distiller's spirit because you're seeing their spirit across a wide range of casks. It can also be argued that they're poor expressions of the distiller's spirit similarly as any malt's unique character is lost in any blend. I generally hold the opinion of the latter.

One of the reasons single cask whiskies are often more revered, IMHO, is because they are purer expressions the distiller's spirit, assuming the cask is good.

Thank goodness for differences of opinion when it comes to our views on what (potentially) might comprise the purest expression(s) of the distiller's spirit.

And while I essentially agree with the gist of much of what DaleNY has stated, I still wish to point out where I personally diverge from his viewpoint... Specifically, I believe it's an error to automatically relegate malt whiskies that have been drawn from multiple casks to an inferior status relative to single casks malt whiskies. Why? Simply because I feel that, in certain instances, those whiskies drawn from multiple casks better reflect the true style of a distillery's make.

Let's take Highland Park as an example. Here, many of the proprietary releases are bottled from combinations of first and second-fill ex-Sherry casks. What's more, those casks may be fabricated from European and/or American oak. This variety of vessels offers the distillery personnel a palate of potential flavour influences from which to craft the final product. And this can only (once again, in my opinion) lead to a greater degree of complexity and (possibly) a better balance.

The concept of blending, whether it pertains to malt whiskies or blended Scotch whiskies, isn't simply a tool to cover up the effect(s) of inferior casks of spirit by 'drowning/hiding' their influence in a large collection of casks. It is, more importantly, a means to creating whiskies that the personnel of any site feel convincingly illustrate the true character of their distillery's whisky.

Yes, a single cask whisky is about as 'pure' a product you're likely to find. But this alone does not a 'gem' make.
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Re: Question on Single Cask/Barrel Whiskeys

Postby Muskrat Portage » Sun Apr 17, 2011 5:41 am

This is what I delight in on this forum. An innocent question leads to several insightful and scholarly responses from members who really do know and enjoy the subject. Even with my experience, I've learned something from Dale, Bredman and 3rdDram today. Once again it's not a wasted visit.

Thank you.

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Re: Question on Single Cask/Barrel Whiskeys

Postby zl725 » Thu Apr 21, 2011 8:39 am

Thank you all for the very interesting and insightful views. It inspired me to go out and buy my first single barrel bourbon!
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