Is your bottle of single malt the same as my bottle of single malt?
Essentially the idea is to make a single malt that is consistent from bottle to bottle. So the bottle that you bought earlier this year should be the same as you enjoy later on in the year.
Of course, Single malts themselves are blends, a collection of casks from one distillery that have been blended together. Although the youngest whisky will be the same age as that stated on the bottle (if the bottle has an age statement) there may well be some older stuff in there in order to balance the whisky.
However, as no two casks will ever give up the same matured whisky it stands to reason that every bottle release will be slightly different and so that you will get a variation between years. But with a huge number of casks to choose from that variation should be very slight and more or less unnoticeable to the average punter. If you really want to geek out then it’s worth a look at the writings of Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible to track the variations in your favourite single malt over the years, the results can be quite startling.
Recently, at a tasting we held, we noticed a very interesting difference between two bottles of the same single malt. We cracked open two bottles of Bunnahabhain 12 year old. The standard distillery bottle. Both bottled at 46.3% and unchillfiltered (yep we know that the older bottles were at a lower strength and the packaging was different). The drinks from the two yielded two quite different results. The first bottle produced a sparkling clear and vibrant liquid, full of life. On the nose it was more meaty with clear marmite characteristics. The palate full bodied with plenty of spice.
In comparison the second bottle seemed duller, almost slightly cloudy in appearance. The nose a little more closed, less vibrant and that continued onto the palate which had a touch more bitterness and a lack of spice.
Both bottles were purchased at roughly the same time, both had the same artwork and looked identical. Sometimes you can find a lot number so you can check between different bottles. But Bunnahabhain didn’t seem to carry any that were particularly evident (there was a very tiny number printed on black onto a black bottle but was so hard to read that it wasn’t worth pursuing it). We made sure it wasn’t just us by pouring a few samples and letting our customers taste them – and we did it blind – so we didn’t tell them they were meant to be the same product. Everyone thought they were two different drinks. Although some preferred the second to the first, the majority stuck with the first. Also, after revealing our little experiment, a couple of people commented that they had drank this whisky a few days previous at another bar and it had tasted different again.
So the moral of the story is this. If you’ve tasted a whisky once and it wasn’t to your liking. Go back and give it another go at a later date and see if your opinion stays the same.