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8 Frequently Asked Questions About Single Malt, Answered

By: Shreya Goswami

Single Malt Whisky

Ask any whisky lover what their most beloved variety of spirit is, and they will certainly count single malt whisky as one of their favourites. Infused with a rich heritage that can be traced back to Scotland, single malt whisky is always known for its complex palate, deep, rich and smooth taste, and a slightly sweet aftertaste that has a global appeal. The aroma of any single malt, no matter where it is made and aged, is enticing enough to lull you into a comfort level that only the best whisky can. 

But, if you are a newbie who is just discovering the delights of single malt, then you have a lot to learn before you can appreciate the journey that a single sip of single malt can provide. To be fair, appreciating single malts requires a level of connoisseurship which only comes with time and, well, tasting more varieties under the guidance of experts and other connoisseurs.  

And yet, if you are interested in starting out on this journey, here are all the frequently asked questions about single malt whisky, answered. 

What Is Single Malt Whisky? 

The very first question that needs to be addressed is this, and the answer lies in a few key points. Firstly, single malt is a type of whisky that is made entirely and only from malted barley. Secondly, single malt is made in a single distillery and it is distilled in pot stills and oak barrels. Thirdly, single malt usually has a variety of flavours, bouquet and aromas which are determined by the distillery’s location, method of distillation and ageing process and duration.  

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What Gives Single Malt Its Distinct Flavour? 

The unique flavour of simgle malt whisky comes from a number of factors ranging from the kind of malted barley used, the method of distillation, the shape and material for the stills, the yeast used to ferment the spirit base, the water source, the variety of oak barrels used for ageing, and finally the duration of ageing. Needless to say, all of these factors affect the intensity, flavour and aroma of single malt whisky.  

How Is Single Malt Whisky Different From Blended Whisky? 

As mentioned before, single malt whisky is sourced from malted barley made in a single distillery. Simply put, blended whisky combines malted whisky with whiskies made from other grains in multiple distilleries. So, while single malt focuses on one distillery and its heritage, blended whisky combines the consistency of various whiskies from many distilleries.  

How Do Different Regions Impact Single Malt Production? 

Single malts are mostly made in Scotland and there, the terrain differences really come into play when it comes to the flavour and bouquet of the whisky. Regions like Speyside, Highland, Islay, Lowland, and Campbeltown in Scotland produce single malts with distinctive characteristics with everything from water sources to environmental factors affective the flavour profiles. So, whether your single malt is lighter or floral or peaty and smoky depends on the regional factors. 

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What Does The Age Statement On Single Malt Bottles Signify? 

Age statements are always given on the bottles of single malt whisky and impact the buyer’s decision for a number of reasons. The age statement indicates the minimum number of years the whisky in the bottle has been aged for. This one line offers a simple guide to the maturity, complexity and provenance of the single malt whisky and often determines the overall flavour profile.  

Does The Type Of Oak Barrel Used Impact A Single Malt’s Flavour?   

When it comes to any spirit, the choice of barrel or cask used is of the utmost importance. In the case of single malt, the barrel or cask used is made of oak and the type of oakwood used determines the flavour of the whisky. For example, bourbon casks add notes of caramel and spice in the whisky, while traditional sherry casks add a fruity note.  

Is Older Always Better When It Comes To Single Malt Whisky? 

It is natural for beginners to reach out for only the most aged whiskies, single malt or otherwise, because the idea that everyone has about spirits is that older is better. And while longer ageing durations do offer more complexity and depth of flavour, there are also other factors that connoisseurs should note. For example, check what kind of cask was used to age the whisky, the distillation process, and flavour infusions, etc.   

How Should One Appreciate Single Malt Whisky? 

As with any spirit, appreciating single malt whisky requires a number of steps. The first one is nosing the whisky to inhale and identify its aromas. Then, take a small sip of the neat single malt and let it coat your palate completely. This is the time to notice the flavours, and then add a bit of water to open up the single malt’s bouquet even further. Finally, take another sip, swallow and savour the aftertaste of the single malt whisky.