Here’s a little question that I’m going to pose and maybe you can all have a think about. It’s not meant to taken too seriously but hopefully you’ll have a think about it and discuss it with your friends. Talking about whisky is the aim really. Anyway….
If I make a single malt whisky, and then add another single malt whisky from another distillery, it can no longer be called a single malt. It’s a blended malt. Even if it is a tiny, tiny amount that is added, it can no longer be called or sold as a single malt. As a great example William Grant and Sons protect their Kininvie distillery from being sold as a single malt when being sold on to other companies for blending purposes by adding a tiny amount of Balvenie to it. This practice is known as “teaspooned” i.e. a teaspoon of whisky is added to render it no longer a single malt. (1)
That’s all fairly clear yeah?
Ok now onto the second example. Say I’m making my whisky and I want to let the distillery character of my whisky sing a little bit more. I don’t want to mature it in a first fill cask, where the wood will be more active. I want to mature it in a cask that has already given up a little bit of itself elsewhere. So I’m going to purchase a refill cask (one that’s already been used to store whisky). Invariably this cask is going to have come from another distillery. And even though the cask would have been drained of its contents there still will be whisky locked away in the wood. A lot more than a teaspoons worth as well. So can you see where this is going?
Ok you can argue that the first example is a deliberate act of putting two whiskies together and the second example is just an accepted part of the production process and therefore allowable but the outcome is roughly the same.
You can also apply this logic to the idea of cask finishing. There’s still some rum left in that rum cask, or port in that port pipe. Dalmore apparently specify that 5 litres of sherry is left in every 600 litre sherry cask so that 2 litres will be soaked into the wood during transportation. (2) That sherry is going to be absorbed into the maturing whisky. But if I happily chucked in some sherry into my whisky, it would be called a cocktail.
So my question is, is your single malt really a single malt?
(1) Malt Whisky Yearbook. Ingvar Ronde. p160 2013 edition.
(2) 1001 Whiskies you must try before you die. p223 – Isabel Graham-Yooll