Single malt Scotch whisky is a highly sought-after product ideal for the cellar. Hunter Laing are independent, specialist blenders and bottlers of the finest Scotch whiskies.
The Laing Family:
The Laing family has been in the Scotch whisky business for several generations, and the company has acquired not only a great deal of expertise but, just as importantly, it holds valuable stock from around 80 of the 100 or so active Scotch malt whisky distilleries.
Greatwineonline.co.uk has have been in discussion with Hunter Laing for quite some time about the importance of the right conditions for the storage of single cask whiskies.
Commercial Director, Andrew Laing explains: “Single-cask malt whiskies are usually barrels which have been chosen for their particular qualities, perhaps on the nose, palate, mouthfeel or finish. Each and every cask matures differently and these single-barrel expressions can differ dramatically from standard bottlings which are vattings of many casks combined to create a more uniform product. A simple analogy with wine is that single-cask whisky is the ‘vintage estate’ version”
Under Scotch Whisky regulations, a ‘Single Malt Scotch Whisky’ must be made exclusively from malted barley, must be distilled using a pot still, and must be aged for at least three years in oak casks. In practice single malt is rarely sold at less than 10 years of age.
Single cask whisky is bottled separately, with all of the bottles coming from one barrel. These are identified with the barrel number and the dates of the beginning and end of the ageing process.
The great skill of the independent specialist is in identifying that exact point when the whisky is perfectly developed for bottling, not when the marketing men say.
Every cask is different and the nature of the barrel will contribute unique characteristics to the finished whisky, especially as most single cask whisky is matured in barrels that have previously been used for storing either sherry, or more commonly, bourbon.
The history of an individual cask plays an important role in the maturation process, and the ‘woody’ elements from a virgin cask would overpower the subtleties we appreciate in a single malt whisky.
Bourbon barrels are usually heavily charred on the inside. The carbon from the burnt layer not only acts like a filter, it also helps to transfer vanilla and woody notes to the bourbon. In its ‘second life’ in Scotland a cask keeps influencing the contents.
Sherry casks are usually larger than bourbon barrels and come in several different sizes. There are many different types of sherry too, which means there are different types of sherry casks. Both bourbon and sherry casks are used more than once.
A sherry cask that has seen four or five fillings is no exception. When a cask has held and aged whisky for the very first time it’s called a first fill cask, after a second filling with fresh whisky it’s a second-fill cask, and so on. With each filling less and less character is transferred to the whisky. Depending on the pedigree of the cask it will become ‘exhausted’ after a few fillings.
Storage is an important factor in the life of a cask of whisky. The type of warehouse, the location of the warehouse and even the location of a cask within the warehouse all play a role in the maturation process. That goes for humidity and temperature as well. If a distillery is located on the shore it’s easy to find
coastal elements like salt (and even seaweed – hence that lovely phenolic smell on many of the island whiskies) in the whiskies they produce.
Every cask breathes while it matures. The wood of the cask expands during the heat of summer and contracts during the cold of winter. As a result of evaporation the spirit will annually lose up to 2.5% alcohol while it matures. The part of the maturing spirit that vanishes between casking and bottling is known as the “angels’
But some angels are thirstier than others, it seems…
Single-cask whisky is often bottled at natural cask-strength and without chill-filtration, to further retain the individual characteristics of each particular barrel.
Once bottled, the whisky should be stored out of the sunlight and in a cool and dry place, as storing whisky in direct sunlight can result in the whisky lightening in colour. Storing whisky out of direct sunlight also prevents the label from fading and, much like wine, as these contain so much valuable provenance information, they should be preserved and cared for too.
In much older bottling of malts, corks were not of the same quality that they are today and the corks sometimes deteriorated over time and spoiled the contents of the bottle. Due to the quality of corks used in today’s bottling there should be no deterioration and there is no strict requirement on the position in which the bottle should be stored as the alcohol vapour in the bottle should be sufficient to keep the cork moist and prevent it from drying out. If a bottle of whisky is sealed and stored in a cool dry place you should be able to keep single malt indefinitely.
Once the bottle has been opened, the length of time the whisky will retain its character all depends on how much air is in the bottle, as this interacts with the remaining whisky and will start to alter its character. The more you drink from the bottle the faster the deterioration of the character of the remaining whisky in the bottle. So if you have a bottle with just a little left for too long this will result in much faster deterioration.
A LIMITED AND EXCLUSIVE OFFER FOR SPIRAL CELLARS
Through our partners Hunter Laing, we have been able to access some rare limited edition malt whiskies.
The First Edition Malt Whiskies are popular among connoisseurs in around a dozen Asian and European countries, however they have never been offered in
the UK and are now offered exclusively to Spiral Cellars fans. Limited in number, these single cask bottlings are totally unique, bottled without chill-filtration or
The First Edition Speyside Distillery, 17 years old
Bottled at natural cask strength of 61.2% alcohol
Only 72 bottles available
Its colour is a rich mahogany: the nose is one of ripe red fruits, some chocolate notes. On the palate there are rich fruits (strawberries, peaches) and some floral and green
notes (green apples, grass). Fruits continue on the finish, along with some honey sweetness.
Exclusive price of £69.99 per bottle including VAT and duty (plus £7.99 delivery).
The First Edition Miltonduff Distillery, 30 years old
Bottled at natural cask strength of 48.3% alcohol
Only 90 bottles available
Its colour is of straw, a little austere and dry on the nose, with a hint of smoke. Maltiness and grassy notes on the palate, with the dryness continuing into a short yet complex,
mouth-puckering finish. This is an excellent aperitif whisky.
Exclusive price of £99.99 per bottle including VAT and duty (plus £7.99 delivery).
To purchase either of these whiskies visit www.greatwineonline.co.uk/index.php/wines-1/spiral-cellars.html.