Single Grain Whiskey ExplainedBy Stephanie Moreno
Now that we’ve tackled single malts and blended malts, we’re ready to discuss single grain whiskey. These whiskeys can be made anywhere in the world, but typically are found in Scotland and Ireland, with Japan making its mark as of late.
WHAT IS A SINGLE GRAIN WHISKEY?
Single grain whiskey must:
-Be distilled from a grain or mixture of grains—malted or unmalted—at one distillery.
-If Scotch or Irish, must be aged for at least three years.
Important to note: The SINGLE here is referring to the number of distilleries—one—not the number of grains that can be used, which isn’t dictated. The still shape and size is not mentioned in the regulations, but this category is typically distilled in a column or Coffey still, rather than a pot still.
SINGLE GRAIN WHISKEY IN THE MARKETPLACE
Traditionally, this category was not something that you would see bottled and sold. It was, and is, used primarily to create blended whiskeys, such as Dewar’s White Label, Johnnie Walker Red, and Jameson, to name a few. It is quicker and cheaper to create than single malt, which is produced in batches. Blended with single malt(s), you can create a very drinkable whiskey at an affordable price.
In recent years, the single grain category has gained some serious traction with whiskey brands creating some quite respectable products. In addition to these relatively new bottlings, you may also see them from independent bottlers like Douglas Laing & Co, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, and The Exclusive Malts, among others. Look for Cameronbridge, Girvan and Invergordon—often quite old.
HOW DO THEY TASTE?
Generally speaking, they are light bodied and mild—a great introduction to the whiskey category as a whole. Corn (maize) or wheat are often utilized, as are used barrels. So you’ll get some sweetness, but not a charred, smoky flavor, nor an intense vanilla/maple profile, as you’d find in traditional bourbon.
Haig Club Single Grain / Photo Credit: Haig Club
HOW TO DRINK?
This, we leave up to you. But it isn’t out of the question to have it on the rocks, or in a long drink, paired with ginger ale or club soda. Some are even worthy of sipping neat, as you would a single malt whiskey—give it a try. If you’re looking for a cocktail, look no further than a whiskey sour.
KILBEGGAN BROSNA WHISKEY SOUR
-2 oz Kilbeggan Single Grain
-¼ oz lemon juice
-¾ oz grapefruit juice
-¾ oz simple syrup
-1 egg white
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake without ice (dry shake), then add ice and shake again. Strain and serve in a coupe glass without garnish.
Kilbeggan Brosna Sour / Photo Credit: Beam Suntory
SINGLE GRAIN WHISKEY SUGGESTIONS
Here are a few single grains to tick off your to-do list; all under $75. Prices listed are average retail prices in the US.
Introduced late June 2017, this single grain made mostly from corn is aged first in ex-bourbon barrels. It then finishes its maturation in a further marrying of ex-bourbon and various fortified wine barrels. Gentle flavors of lemon tarts and sweet cereal notes highlight this whiskey. ($30)
Released to the US in 2015, the whiskey is made from a predominate corn grain base. What makes this bottling stand out not just for this category, but for any Irish whiskey, is its full maturation in California red wine barrels. The result is underlying fruit flavor with raspberries and banana bread topped with vanilla cream. ($50)
Distilled at Scotland’s Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife, this single grain was introduced to the US in December 2014. Made mostly (90%) from wheat, this shows a breakfast cereal quality with gentle touches of herbs, vanilla, and light barrel spices. By the way, Diageo, owner of this brand, has recently released a more mixable version in the UK. Haig Club Clubman has a slightly lower price point £22 ($30). Our recommendation is to have this one neat or on the rocks, so you get those subtle notes to shine. ($55)
Made from mostly corn, this whisky is from Nikka’s Miyagikyo Distillery—they have Coffey stills there in addition to pot stills. This bottling shows notes of carnival candy and peaches. With the demand for Japanese whisky having increased, so to has the price of this offering. Still, the whisky is worth it. ($65)
Japanese whisky brands tend to make all whiskies for themselves, rather than trade to make blended whiskies. With Suntory, their grain whisky is made at the Chita Distillery, built in 1972, and is used to produce their Toki and Hibiki brands, among others. The Chita shows notes of vanilla sweetness and tropical fruits. Not available in the US. Look for this in Japan or select global travel retail outlets. $65
Ready to fill your wishlist with single grain whiskey?