The term single malt whisky is often considered a mark of a premium whisky. Whether you're new to whisky or simply curious about it, you may well be wondering: what is single malt whisky? Like many terms and phrases linked to a particular subject, single malt whisky has a specific code. By breaking this title down into its components, its true meaning can be uncovered.
Single malt whisky is made worldwide, and it is more about the process rather than where it is made. However, most distilleries will aim for a specific taste and flavour that is unique to their region. When you try the different releases and blends from any distillery, you may find that while the flavours are different, there is a distinct theme within all. The term single malt whisky means that the whisky is made from malted barley produced at a single distillery.
Aged single malt whisky can be bottled from a mix of different barrels and whiskies of varying ages. The age noted on the bottle is the minimum age of whisky present in that bottle. The minimum age for an Australian single malt whisky is two years, and if you're buying Scottish whisky, it needs to be matured in barrels for a minimum of three years. An aged whisky can be made of several different ages, and most distilleries will use an older whisky to help balance a newer one.
When discussing a malt whisky (single or blended), this refers to malted barley and other grains. In the malting process, barley and other grains are taken through several stages of development. First, they are dried until they have a low moisture count, and then they're stored for a few weeks. When the grains are ready, they are soaked in water for a few days until they germinate. At around six days after germination, the grains are toasted and dried until they achieve the correct colouration as determined by the distiller. The final stage is to smoke the grains to help add flavour. With some whiskies, the smoke is a large part of the flavour profile.
The exact recipe of grains used is up to the distillery, but barley is the most commonly used ingredient. A part of the art of crafting a good whisky comes from the malting process and the type of grains used. Whisky distilling is often a highly skilled process, and to be consistent, extensive and accurate records must be maintained.
Some people may think that single malt whisky is only from Scotland, but this is not accurate. The term single malt is the process used to craft the whisky, and where the barley and grains were malted and distilled. For example, if the distillery is located in Canada and uses barley and grains imported from Europe, the resulting whisky is Canadian Single Malt Whisky. Unlike grapes that go into wine, the flavour for malt whisky doesn’t come from the soil and climate – it comes from the malting process, the types of barrels, and the conditions in which they were stored.
You may find some top-shelf whisky is marked as being the single barrel or single cask. These whiskies are bottled from a single barrel or cask, and they are usually very limited in their supply. A whisky barrel will hold approximately 200 litres (but can go up to 700 litres). As such, you may only get about 400 full-sized (500ml) bottles from a single cask.
What does single malt whisky taste like?
All single malt whisky will have different characteristics based on the precise location it was distilled. The quality of water, grains and the types of barrels will all affect the whisky when it is matured. Typical flavours you'll find in many single malt whiskies include malt, vanilla, oak, spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.), dried fruits, and smoke.
When tasting a whisky, you can find these flavours in various levels of potency. For example, you may find a whisky that has a more prominent oak flavour when compared to another. All whisky will have a nuanced flavour, and these are what can make any whisky genuinely brilliant.
How to choose the right single malt whisky?
Most distilleries prefer to keep their exact ingredients a secret, but they'll happily discuss the flavours you can find. When you're looking at a whisky to buy, have a read of any tasting notes provided. These notes will provide a guide for the flavours that you may detect when drinking the whisky.
Buying a whisky tasting set will offer you a few different whiskies to try on the one package. In the Lark Distillery whisky sets, you'll receive a bottle (or bottles) of our finest Australian whisky and a Glencairn whisky glass. These sets are ideal for uncovering the delights of Tasmanian single malt whisky and are ideal for gifts and sharing with others.
Where to buy single malt whisky?
Single malt whisky is the most common whisky, and it is made all over the world. At Lark Distilling Co., we make our single malt whisky using local ingredients and pure Tasmanian water. In crafting our peated whisky, we harvest the peat ourselves to maintain quality control and make sure you only get the finest in a smokey whisky.
All our whiskies are available in our online shop, and your whisky delivery can be delivered directly from our distillery to your door. While you can find many of our whiskies in your local retail liquor store, they may not have the entire range available. If you need assistance in choosing the best whisky for you, please contact our team and we’ll offer our recommendation.