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Issue 150 - Does the ABV really matter?

Whisky Magazine Issue 150
April 2018


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Does the ABV really matter?

As malt whiskies are bottled at various strengths, we ask what significance this can have

When choosing a malt whisky there are various factors to consider: the distillery, the age and the style, not to mention the price. The alcoholic strength is also significant, being one of the factors that determines a maltís flavour profile. Consequently, perceptions of the same malt at different strengths can vary, which includes the intensity and range of flavours.

The bottling strength is either pre-determined, and reached by diluting the whisky with the required amount of water, or, in the case of cask strength bottlings this depends on the alcoholic strength a whisky reaches as a consequence of the ageing process.

The vast majority of malts are bottled at 40% ABV (the EU minimum for Scotch whisky). Another established bottling strength is 43% ABV, also referred to as ëexport strength,í as Scotch whisky was traditionally dispatched around the world at this strength (and regulations in South Africa, for example, continue to stipulate 43% ABV as the minimum).

Meanwhile, Scotch whisky is increasingly exported at a range of strengths. This includes 46% ABV, which has more recently become a key bottling strength, as it is considered the lowest strength at which malt whisky can be bottled without chill-filtering (ie. chilling the whisky, then passing it through a filter). Whiskies bottled below this strength are chill-filtered in order to prevent the possibility of a ëcloudy hazeí forming when the whisky is exposed to lower temperatures.

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