Cask Strength Scotch: Single Malts Straight from the CaskBy Stephanie Moreno
If you’re just getting into scotch whisky, you may not have tried single malts that are bottled at cask strength. Or maybe you ordered one, but were surprised to see your bartender offer you water. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, cask strength single malt is for everyone to enjoy! So let’s go over a few of the basics.
Cask strength scotch whisky is simply that: whisky that is bottled directly from the cask that it matures in. Generally, that will mean that the whisky will be at least 50%-mid 60% ABV give or take. However, if a Scotch whisky is of considerable age, that will often drop in the mid to low 40s due to the environment in which it matured. The opposite tends to happen in climates such as Kentucky.
Cask strength scotch is minimally filtered to remove solids, but aside from that it usually doesn’t include any chill-filtration. As such, you’ll often see a cloudy haze to your whisky depending on the temperature of the bottle or if you add water to your glass.
ADDING WATER (OR NOT)
Speaking of which, if you do add water or ice to these whiskies, please do keep in mind the quality of the water you are using. If you live in an area with a high mineral content, don’t just add water from the tap. Consider using filtered water (using a Brita or something similar) or purchase distilled or spring water. An eye-dropper can be used to slowly add water to your dram. Living in a warm and humid climate such as central Texas, I like to add chilled water to my glass come summertime. Your preferences may vary. In fact, you may not want to add water at all.
The selections below are all bottled at cask strength (or have minimal water added to keep flavor and proof consistent). Often, brands will bottle their cask strength whiskies in either batches or single barrels. Although there will be slight variances in flavor and proof, you should feel free to enjoy any you happen to find in your neck of the woods. Happy imbibing!
A’Bunadh [a-BOON-arh]—”Original” in Gaelic—is a single malt whisky that is aged solely in Spanish oak oloroso sherry butts. This was designed as a replica to a whisky that was produced at this distillery in the late 1800s. Expect a huge fruit and spice experience.
This First-Fill Selection was first added to The Glenlivet’s Nàdurra collection back in 2014. In fact, the collection—which means “natural” in Gaelic—consists of all cask strength bottlings. First-Fill matures in virgin American white oak barrels for an undisclosed amount of time. Flavors of vanilla, toasted sugar, apples and more await you.
The Cask Strength bottling will vary per batch, but will be somewhere in the 114-117 proof range. Aged in used barrels for 10 years, the whisky is barrier filtered, meaning just large chunks of char are removed leaving the whisky to shine on its own. The intensity of the classic 10 Year Laphroaig is here filled with sea spray, kippers, peat smoke and leather.
This is a semi-annual release from the Campbeltown distillery. The peated single malt is aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. After 10 years of maturation, it is bottled without added color or chill-filtration. You’ll find a mix of orange and dark chocolate along with tobacco and brine on the palate.
Glengoyne is known for using sherry cask in its maturation process. In fact, some cask strength batches were matured exclusively in them. However, the most recent batch 7 used bourbon barrels and refill casks in addition to first-fill European and American oak oloroso sherry casks. Expect to find toffee and vanilla notes as well as tropical fruits and nuts.
Announced in April 2019, this Benromach Cask Strength bottling was distilled in 2008. It spent 10 years maturing in first-fill sherry and bourbon barrels. It is bottled at cask strength of 57.9% ABV. This new single malt series replaces the brand’s 100 Proof in its Classic range with subsequent batches to follow.
In 1968, Glenfarclas was the first to release a cask strength single malt whisky. This bottling was re-named to 105, the British alcohol proof equivalent for 60% alcohol by volume. The single malt matures in a combination of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon barrels for around 8 to 10 years. Try without water first!
Machrie Moor is the peated family of single malts from Arran, located on the Isle of Arran. Previously this had been released with batch numbers, but as of 2018 this is now a permanent member of the portfolio. The malt used in its production is peated to 20ppm. It is bottled without chill-filtration or added color.
Prior to 2017, when the distillery was acquired by a consortium led by master distiller Billy Walker, GlenAllachie was rarely seen as a single malt whisky. The much anticipated core range of the GlenAllachie distillery from Speyside was finally launched in July 2018. This cask strength batch aged for 10 years in a combination of American oak, Pedro Ximénez sherry, oloroso sherry and virgin oak barrels.
The heavily-peated single malt from Bruichladdich matures in two parts. One half matures in first-fill American whiskey casks and the other half in 2nd-fill French wine casks. These single malts are then combined and matured for one more year in French oak wine casks from the Left Bank of Bordeaux. It is bottled at cask strength of 59.2% ABV with no chill filtration and no color added.
A now classic bottling from this Islay distillery, Oog-a-dal—as it’s pronounced—is made from single malts which aged in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon. The whiskies are married before bottling without chill-filtration at cask strength (some water is added to keep batches and flavors consistent, but only minimally).
The GlenDronach Cask Strength bottlings mature exclusively in ex-sherry casks. Notably, both oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks are used. Following maturation, the single malt is bottled without chill-filtration or added color. Expect tons of cooked fruit, dark chocolate and barrel spices.