First of all, it is important to understand exactly what single malt whisky is. The answer is actually quite straightforward, in order to qualify to be a single malt scotch, the whisky needs to have been distilled in a unique distillery using a method of production that is known as the pot still distillation process.
An interesting fact, that not many people know is that single malt whiskey, and the use of whiskey is not typing mistake, originated in Ireland which is the first country that began producing whiskey over one thousand years ago and the Scottish single malt whiskies have benefitted in their development because of what was learnt on the other side of the Irish Sea.
Single malt scotch – What is it exactly?
First of all, this form of Scotch must be produced in Scotland to be considered the original article. Next it needs to be produced in a one unique distillery following the traditional pot still distillation processes that use malted grain that is mashed and prepared for the production of whisky. Here is the common factor because in Ireland grain and malt were both of the few materials readily available as other fruits of agriculture were few and far between so the production of wine and beer were not economically available.
Scotch whisky today is governed by the same rules that allowed it to be distilled and made famous in the past centuries. None of the key rules that were observed in the past are still rigidly applied today to make sure that the end product is as good now as it was in the past. Without compromise the rules of production are declared in black and white:
Barley is the unique grain that is approved for the production of single malt whisky.
The single malt whisky must be produced from the start to the end of its production in Scotland.
In Scotland it must be distilled and matured in oak casks in Scotland for a minimum of three years, you should understand that many of the most famous single malt whiskies are distilled for as many as 12 years or more.
Are there other alternative Scotch Whiskies to single malt?
Yes, there are other alternatives and some of them have become famous in other countries including the USA, Canada and Japan. Using wheat and rye that are both grains that can be malted and according to their fans these whiskies are some of the best available, they are considered by malt whisky experts to not be in the same class as genuine malt whiskies. Supporters of grain malt whiskies point out that this cereal is the king of the pack when it comes to the production of the best whiskies.
The view of the whisky experts that barley is the best cereal for the production of the best whiskies cannot be ignored as the two of the most important countries where whisky is produced Ireland and Scotland absolutely rely on barley to produce their most famous and successfully export their best whisky brands.
Single or blended – What is the difference?
First of all it is important to point out that a single malt whisky is not automatically better than blended malt whisky and that they will taste better and be a superior product. However there are a number of production conditions that point the way to indicate and prove that a single malt whisky will be a superior product to blended malt.
If you are looking at a bottle of blended malt whisky you need to understand what this means. The Scotch Whisky Regulations published in 2009 clarified the situation and also the definition. What this law has defined is that blended malt whisky allows two important conditions that differ from single malt whisky:
The whisky can be produced in one or more production locations and also the production method may not be guaranteed to follow traditional methods, for example distilling the whisky in oak barrels is not mandatory.
The whisky while it is being matured to be made ready for the market could be moved from one location to another, in this way its origin can become unclear as well as its place of final production.
Next you need to really check out the small print on the label because “blended malt Scotch whisky” only contains malt whisky from different source distilleries. Blended Scotch whiskies can contain malt or grain whisky as well as those containing rye and wheat whisky too and hence they become only “blended whisky”.
So now, you have the bottle of whisky that you have decided to buy in your hand and are ready to head to the checkout, what is the final information need to check? The bottle will tell you that it has been distilled for 8, 12 or 15 years and this is a good indication of its value. What the label will not tell you if it was matured in its production location. Don’t be concerned if the whisky was matured in different locations as the best whiskies are matured in a number of places but thanks to great production, the end result of that whisky is as good as any that you could expect!