Here's the 'standard route' of malt;
Had he (or she) not been such
a nitwit, he (or she) might have
known that the value was just
20 Euros. So, if he had just read
this (free) Beginner's Guide on
single malt whisky he could have
saved himself enough money to
actually buy some GOOD whisky...
So, how many bottles of whisky
can be drawn from a cask? That depends on the size of the cask.
The average (= 200 liter) bourbon barrel that was filled with fresh spirit at 63% will have some 175
liters of whisky left after 12 years. Typically, the proof will have dropped to around 55-60% by then.
Diluting the whisky to 40% or 43% alcohol before bottling would produce some 250 bottles of 70cl.
This 'standard' size of 70cl was introduced in the EU in 1993 to end the chaos of the multitude of
bottle sizes that were used before. The 70cl is still the 'standard' size, along with liter bottles of
100cl (mostly tax free, rumours say they are slowly 'phased out') and miniatures at 5cl (1 dram).
Please note that the standard bottle size in the USA and a few other markets is 75cl, not 70cl.
At a price of 40 Euro's per 70cl bottle the 'street value'
of an average 12yo cask would be around 10,000 Euro.
Time for bottling? Well, that depends; different whiskies
reach their peak at different ages. I already mentioned
some of the factors that play a role in the maturation
process of a single malt whisky in the previous chapter
but economical issues are extremely important as well.
First of all, bottling costs & taxes can easily double the
price of a cask of maturing spirit before any of it is sold.
The longer a cask stays in bond, the higher the costs.
Even though most of the single malt whiskies distilled in Scotland are
still sold 'by the cask' to the industry for blending, a growing number of
the casks are BOTTLED for human consumption. In the days of yore the
Scotsmen could just bring any old chemist bottle to have it filled straight
from the cask at the distillery. Nowadays, most of them have to buy their
bottles just like the rest of us - which seems only fair, if you ask me...
Even after the whisky is bottled, there are costs for distribution and marketing
considered too. All in all, the decision to bottle a particular cask isn't usually taken lightly.
When it comes to the actual bottling of a cask there are two options. An OFFICIAL BOTTLING (OB) is produced and
marketed by the distillery where the whisky was distilled (and/or by the company that owns it) - for example Diageo
or Bacardi. Meanwhile, an INDEPENDENT BOTTLING (IB - also know as 'private bottling') is marketed by one of the
many independent whisky bottlers. Scroll down for an overview of some of the main independent bottlers. You can
find a complete, updated overview of all independent bottlers and their brands in the Advanced Beginner's Guide.
Actually, there is (sort of) a third option besides OB's and
IB's; something I'd like to call a BASTARD BOTTLING (BB,
excuse my French). The labels of both official and private
bottlings generally provide information about the distillery
where the whisky was actually produced. However, these
BB's have a more 'illegitimate ' character. The distillery of
birth of these malt whiskies usually remains unknown.
So, now the whisky is distilled and matured - can you drink it yet?
Not quite, unless you're prepared to suck whisky straight from the cask.
Fortunately, they invented whisky bottles - a distribution improvement
from the 18th century that allows us to enjoy our drams without a visit
to a distillery in person & fill one or two jugs ourselves. That's progress!
As long as casks are stored in the (bonded)
warehouse they are 'in bond'. The taxes are
paid only when the cask is bottled. This can be
a nasty surprise for people who thought they
made a nice investment in a cask of whisky.
Depending on the strain
Time to get wet! The rest of the Beginner's Guide tackles more practical issues... Issues like shopping for instance.
Experienced maltsters have discovered their likes and dislikes over time, but for the novice in maltland the number of available single malts can be a bit overwhelming. Since single malts aren't cheap (it's hard to find many decent bottlings below 25 Euro's), I thought I'd provide you with some (subjective) observations about the single malt whiskies that offer the most 'bang' for my 'bucks'. Just keep on clicking...
Appreciating Whisky (Phillip Hills)
This 6th chapter about bottling concludes the 'theoretical' part of this beginner's
guide that deals with the magical transformation of air, water, earth and fire into
the 'uisge beatha' you can find at a liquorist near you. That's enough 'dry' theory.
And then, sometimes COLOURING
is applied to the malt
whisky as well. If the producer feels the wood of the casks
hasn't given the whisky a dark enough colour, it is allowed
to use small amounts of caramel to colour the malt whisky.
In the Advanced Beginner's Guide I'll delve deeper into the
topic of the artificial colouring of whisky with spirit caramel.
Fortunately, more and more new releases are un-chillfiltered
these days. That means that we can enjoy these malt
whiskies as the good laird intended us to enjoy them; pure and unfiltered. So, after spending one or two decades in
a cask somewhere in Scotland, the whisky is finally packaged in containers that are more suitable for consumption by
civilised human beings. It is then shipped to importers, liquorists and supermarkets all around the world. And that's
very good news for the nearly six billion people living in countries with a less developed whisky distillation industry.
(Well - it's good news for the ones that drink alcohol at least... ;-)
So, after choosing the ABV, can the malt be bottled now?
Not just quite yet - often, a malt whisky is CHILL-FILTERED as well.
The only reason for this bump in the production process is that a malt whisky can become
a tad hazy when it's refrigerated. This haze might put off those people who are ignorant
enough to put their single malts in the fridge, just like they would do with a cheap vodka.
Big mistake! Single malts should be drunk at room temperature
to allow all the aroma's to
reveal themselves. Chilling or adding ice are two effective ways to kill a single malt whisky.
Unfortunately, this filtering also means that the original texture and taste of the malt are
damaged to some extent. The congeners which give a single malt whisky its complexity
(esters, aldehydes, phenols, ketones, lactones, turpentines, etc.) are suppressed or
even destroyed by adding ice to your glass. So, I'm no fan of the procedure myself...
If you need cold on a hot day, a complex single malt probably isn't the proper drink.
In the old days (before fibbing became a trend & they called it 'marketing')
the phrase 'Cask Strength' used to mean just that: 'straight from the cask'
with no water added at all. Nowadays, many of the so-called cask strength
bottlings (especially OB's) are diluted to some extent. Sometimes the word
'overproof' is used as a synonym for cask strength, but it could also indicate
anything between 46% (the highest regular ABV) and actual 'cask strength'.
The ABV (alcohol by volume) scale has been in use in Europe for a long time now, but both the UK and the USA used to have their own 'proof'
The minimum required 40% ABV is the equivalent of 70 Proof in the UK and
of 80 Proof in the USA. Ordering an 80 Proof malt in the UK instead of the
US gets you a stiffer dram of 100 US Proof or 50% ABV. (See box below.)
The line between regular bottlings
Major Bottlers: .
A growing number of both official and independent bottlings are SINGLE CASK BOTTLINGS.
This means that the contents of one single cask of single malt whisky were used for that particular
bottling. Often the individual number of the cask is indicated on the label, as well as the type of wood
(bourbon, sherry, rum, port, madeira, bordeaux, etc.), the date of distillation, the date of bottling, etc.
Of course, details like these increase the fanatical fun of every genuine 'malt maniac' even further.
Most official and bastard bottlings are VATTINGS - blends of more than one cask.
Even if everything went 'perfect' during distillation and maturation, the contents of a cask
can be ruined by blending it into the 'wrong' vatting. Especially OB's are like 'brands' and
the distillery should try to blend the 'same' single malt whisky year after year in order not
to alienate their loyal customers. That is no easy task, because every cask has its own
character. That's why every 'regular' official bottling like Glenfiddich 12yo or Oban 14yo
is bound to show some sort of BATCH VARIATION over time. Previous editions of this
Beginner's Guide used to contain a list of the 'brands' that showed significant changes
in the profile recently - for better or for worse. But since this Beginner's Guide won't be
updated anymore in the future, I've moved that list to the 'Advanced Beginner's Guide'.
Most of the time, the differences between consecutive batches are minor. That is quite
amazing when you consider that the master blender only has so many casks to choose
from in his efforts to recreate the previous batch - which was in turn a recreation of the
one before, etc. It's enough to short-circuit your brain if you think about it for too long...
So, it's probably best not to do that. Besides, batch variation isn't something a novice
needs to worry about with hundreds of 'standard' official bottlings still left unexplored.
I mentioned the 'standard route' of the contents of a cask of Scotch malt whisky to the customer.
When the distillery or private bottler decides that one or more casks have matured to an appropriate
and profitable age, the whisky is diluted (40% is the legal minimum but 43% and 46% are common as
well) and then bottled. Actually, that last part about the ABV and proof isn't always completely true...
A growing number of CASK STRENGTH (CS) bottlings are being released, usually bottled at an alcohol
percentage anywhere between 50% and 65%. The phrase 'overproof ' isn't necessarily a synonym.
In some cases the names of 'bastard' bottlings are downright misleading, like
in the 'Malts of Distinction' series which was produced Invergordon. The range
used names like 'Ardnave' (hoping it would be confused for 'Ardbeg') and even
Ben Wyvis (the name of a demolished distillery). Surely enough, those bottles
have been popping up at whisky auctions and auction sites over the years.
Unfortunately, the self-appointed 'whisky experts' that are hired by the
auction houses are often incompetent and/or unreliable. In 2007, one
hapless nitwit indeed ended up paying some 600 Euro's for a 'Ben Wyvis'.
They are marketed under fancy names like 'Ileach',
'Finlaggan', 'Lochindaal' or 'Glenbridge' instead of the
names of the distilleries where the whisky was made.