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The unique beauty of single casks

單桶原酒的獨有美麗

There are many terms to learn when first delving into the world of whisk(e)y – “single malt”, “blend”, “blended malt”, “grain”, “finishing”, “cask strength” and hundreds more. To discuss all these terms in this article would be impossible, so instead we’ll focus on just one – “single cask”, and the unique and fascinating insights they can give us into a particular distillery.

 

There are many terms to learn when first delving into the world of whisk(e)y – “single malt”, “blend”, “blended malt”, “grain”, “finishing”, “cask strength” and hundreds more. To discuss all these terms in this article would be impossible, so instead we’ll focus on just one – “single cask”, and the unique and fascinating insights they can give us into a particular distillery.

Single cask whiskies however, are whiskies that have come from (you guessed it) one single oak cask. They may have spent some time in various casks over the years (some companies like GlenDronach, and even independent bottlers like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society occasionally practice single cask finishing and “re-racking” of casks into different casks during maturation), but prior bottling the whisky comes from one single cask.

Why though? Well, where non-single cask whisky (like the aforementioned Macallan 12 Sherry Oak) is all about consistency, single casks are all about celebrating the uniqueness and rarity of that particular cask. It’s not uncommon for two whiskies from similar casks, aged for the same length of time, in the same warehouse, to taste completely different! I’ve personally experienced this many times during distillery visits, in many different countries, and it makes for a great experience.

Single cask whiskies tell a story – a story of their time maturing in a single oak cask. A small number of bottles (aka “outturn”) from one cask may mean the evaporation, or “Angels’ Share” was particularly harsh (or it might mean the cask leaked!), whereas the colour of a single cask whisky can sometimes give us an insight into the type of cask used – assuming colouring hasn’t been added!

There are many examples of single cask bottlings, from independent bottlers (like Gordon & MacPhail, Adelphi and SMWS), but also from distilleries themselves (Balvenie for example have a 15yo single cask Sherried whisky which forms part of their core range). Many “New World” distilleries also only sell single cask whiskies – forgoing total consistency for the experience and rarity a single cask brings.

Single cask whiskies may not always be great (as there’s nothing to mask any faults that may be present), but you can be guaranteed they’ll show a different side to a distillery. I remember fondly trying two Highland Park 12 Year Olds side by side – one the official distillery bottling, the other a Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling. The difference could not have been more obvious!

If you’re not yet familiar with single cask whiskies, I highly recommend seeking out a similar experience.

 

當首次探索威士忌的世界時就會學習不少詞彙─ 「單一麥芽」、「調和」、「調和麥芽」、「穀物」、「潤飾」、「桶裝強度」和 其他百個等等。要在這篇稿內解釋全部是沒有可能,所有我們不如只集中在討論「單一酒桶」和探討其獨有迷人的一面。

很多人以為「單一麥芽」意思是從一個酒桶釀造的威士忌,「單一」這詞語實際是指酒廠,經過無數參考後意思指完全來自同一家蒸餾廠釀造的威士忌。單一麥芽威士忌(特別是酒廠主要核心作品)通常在一個酒廠以數款不同的酒桶釀造,多年來一直貫徹同一方法釀造,所以為何在現時香港購買的Macallan十二年雪莉橡木桶,其味道一定和三年前在倫敦購買的同款是同一模樣。

但單桶威士忌是指由只有一個橡木桶釀造的威士忌,它們可能在多年來在各種木桶度過一段時間(有些公司像GlenDronach,甚至一些獨立瓶裝品牌像Scotch Malt Whisky Society有時在陳釀期間都會以不同的酒桶作潤飾和rerack),但在裝瓶之前威士忌來自一個木桶。

為何這樣?當非單一酒桶威十忌(像前述的Macallan 十二年雪莉橡木)是講求貫徹始終的品質,相反單一酒桶講求讚許獨特性和某酒桶的罕有特性。來自類似木桶、相同時間陳釀、同一酒廠的兩款威士忌但呈現完全不同的味道,這情況並不罕見!我曾經多次在不同國家參觀多間酒廠也經歷了無數體驗,但卻是美好的體驗。

單桶威士忌猶如向你說故事,一個屬於它們在單一橡木桶內陳釀時間的故事。一個單桶如果只能製造少數瓶裝數目,意味著蒸發或「天使分享」在當時頗嚴峻( 或者意味木桶漏出),而單桶威士忌的顏色有時可以給我們深入了解那種酒桶被使用─假設沒有添上任何色素!

單桶瓶裝的款式多如繁星,從獨立瓶裝品牌(Gordon & MacPhail, Adelphi and SMWS),甚至蒸餾廠本身也有推出,如Balvenie十五年單桶雪莉威士忌。很多新世界蒸餾廠同樣售賣這類款式,更放棄對品質完全一致的追求,來換取單桶帶來的體驗和罕有特性。

單桶威士忌未必能保持優美品質,始終無法完全掩蓋任何可能已存在的錯誤,但至少能夠保證它們會向蒸餾廠展示另一面。我記得曾經嘗試兩款並排的Highland Park十二年威士忌:一款是酒廠瓶裝產品,另一款是Scotch Malt Whisky Society入瓶產品。兩者之間的差異可謂十分明顯!

如果你不是對單桶威士忌太相熟,我極力推介你尋找相同經驗。