April 2017: Single Grain Whisky

Host: Lee Bullock

What is the difference between a single grain and a single malt whisky?  Consumers and even some bartenders have a misconception that single-malt Scotch is not a blended whisky, but this is a myth. Single-malt scotch is a blend, but it’s a very specific type of blend. In fact, nearly all whiskies on the market today are blends—bourbons, ryes, Tennessee, scotches, etc.

The root of all confusion lies in the simple word “single.” A single-malt scotch whisky is nothing more than the product of a single distillery. Not the product of a single batch or a single barrel, but a single distillery. A single-malt Lagavulin may contain whiskies from many barrels produced at the Lagavulin distillery, but it will contain only whiskies produced at Lagavulin.

A single-grain whisky varies only in that it contains one or more other cereal grains, usually wheat or corn. Again, single is misleading here – it refers not to a product made from a single grain, but a product made at a single distillery.  If labeled as a single grain scotch, the mash bill must contain some level of malted barley along with at least one or more other grain. And, if it is bottled in Scotland or Ireland, must be aged for a minimum of three years.

Traditionally, single grain whiskies are the working horse of many blends; they are rarely bottled to shine on their own.

Mr. Bullock selected a variety of single grains that are bottled and have earned notoriety for one reason or another

  • Cocktail:
    • Name: The Smoking Dun (from Gramm & Dun in KC) 
    • Ingredients: Whisky, Cherry Liqueur, rosemary, lemon, hickory smoked ice cube
    • Recipe: place smoked ice cube in glass, slap rosemary and place in glass, add 1 ½ ounce of whisky, ¼ ounce cherry liqueur, squeeze lemon and drop in, stir gently.
  • Bottle 1 : Haig Club (used in cocktail)
    • Country of Origin: Scotland
    • Distillery: Cameronbridge Distillery
    • Age: No Age Statement (likely 6-7 years)
    • Proof: 80
    • Price: $45.63
    • Purchase location: Master of Malt (is available locally)
    • Why this bottle is featured: Haig Club is a single grain whisky distilled at the Cameronbridge Distillery and is made from a mash bill of 90% wheat and 10% malted barley. After distillation, it is aged in a mix of first fill, refill and rejuvenated bourbon barrels for 6-7 years. Also, Haig Club is famous for being part-owned and sponsored by David Beckham
  • Bottle 2Teeling Single Grain 
    • Country of Origin: Ireland
    • Distillery: The Cooley Distillery
    • Age: No Age Statement
    • Proof: 92
    • Price: $38.37
    • Purchase location: Master Of Malt (have seen locally)
    • Producer’s Tasting Notes:
      • Nose: Spice and fruit notes mingle with an underlying sweet nose.
      • Palate: Strong spice at the start developing into lush red berries and grapes, with drying tannin effect at the end.
      • Finish: Dry finish dominated by wood and spice.
    • Group Notes:
      • Nose: the “spice” seems to be more of a biking spice, as opposed to a peppery spice. The fruits we picked up were raisins/dates.
      • Palate: Though admittedly relative to the drinker, the spice was not particularly strong. The red berry flavor was masked by the grape/raisin flavors.
      • Finish: spot on – the dry tannin effect was quite noticeable. As a result, it was also short.
    • Why this bottle is featured: This release from Teeling is a corn-based single grain whiskey that’s been column-distilled at the Cooley Distillery. Initially aged in used oak casks, this is finished in California cabernet sauvignon oak barrels. Was not released in the US until recently.
  • Bottle 3: Girvan Patent Still Single Grain Scotch Whisky 
    • Country of Origin: Scotland
    • Distillery: William Grant & Sons
    • Age: No Age Statement
    • Proof: 85.2
    • Price: $48.99
    • Purchase location: www.astorwines.com
    • Producer’s Tasting Notes:
      • Nose: Vanilla, light floral.
      • Palate: Sweet Lemon Cream, orchard fruit and green grass.
      • Finish: Easy with chocolate notes and light spice.
    • Group Notes:
      • Nose: a little peat/musty scent was more  noticeable than anything floral. This one actually smelled like Scotch. There was also a hint of dark chocolate.
      • Palate: we all agreed with the producer’s notes, but some thought it fell a bit flat. This could have been to the glass sitting out for almost an hour since it was poured.
      • Finish: Similar to the previous bottle, the finish was short and dry.
    • Why this bottle is featured: The Girvan Distillery was originally built in 1963 by Charles Gordon, great grandson of company founder William Grant, to produce unique grain whiskies to supply their portfolio of blends. In 1992, expanding on its mission to create innovative Scotch whisky, the distillery created a one-of-a-kind still whose vacuum distillation process they patented. Known as No. 4 Apparatus, the slower, cooler temperature vacuum distillation creates a light and elegant spirit with an outsized level of aroma and flavor. A fantastic whisky that is so rarely bottled on its own it is an eye-opening, crowd-pleasing must-try. Made at the same distillery that William Grant makes their ultra-popular Hendrick’s Gin.
  • Bottle 4Girvan Patent Still Single Grain Scotch Whisky 25-year old 
    • Country of Origin: Scotland
    • Distillery: William Grant & Sons
    • Proof: 84
    • Price: $256.45
    • Purchase location: Master of Malt
    • Producer’s Tasting Notes:
      • Nose: Vanilla fudge, Werther’s Original, touch of lemon and lime zest. Peppercorns, banana and honey
      • Palate: Creamy vanilla with touches of apricot.
      • Finish: Woody, sparkling water
    • Group Notes:
      • Nose: unsurprisingly, much more oak than the previous bottle. This one lost the Scotch-scents the previous bottle had, too.
      • Palate: the oak was also strongly present here. This one was a very easy drinker.
      • Finish: Again, it was oak-forward. This one had a much longer finish than the previous two, but still probably medium overall.
    • Why this bottle is featured: This the 25-year bottling of the same liquor as the previous bottle. It is produced from a mash bill consisting of mostly corn and was distilled in the original column still the distillery first used in the 1960’s. Aged in mostly refilled American oak with a splash of European oak, this is non-chill filtered and no color is added.  Only released in the UK.
  • Bottle 5Navazos-Palazzi Grain whisky 
    • Country of Origin: Spain
    • Distillery: Destilerias y Crianza del Whisky, S.A. – Segovia, Spain
    • Age: 4-6 years
    • Proof: 107
    • Price: $109.99
    • Purchase location: www.sipfinewine.com
    • Producer’s Tasting Notes:
      • Nose: Salted walnut and sherry.
      • Palate: Creamy caramel, salty nut flavors, pineapple, mango, and sweet spice.
      • Finish: Brown sugar and savory spices.
    • Group Notes:
      • Nose: surprisingly, this smelled older than the 25-year before it. Also some butterscotch and cherry. Very nice.
      • Palate: No one picked up on the mango, but that caramel/salty nut flavor translated into the “beam funk” that many people were used to finding in their bourbons. There was also a touch of dry vermouth, but that could have been the sherry.
      • Finish: just as long or longer than the 25-year. The butterscotch also returned here.
    • Why this bottle is featured: It’s made from a mashbill of 100% Spanish-grown corn, then aged in fresh, still-wet Valdespino Palo Cortado Casks. While sherry casks are commonly used to age whisky, it is very rare to see whisky aged with a barrel that once held this dry variety of sherry, especially fresh from the winery. Also, this whisky comes from a Jim Beam owned distillery in northern Spain. Though it is non-age statement, the whisky is between 4-6 years old.
  • Bottle 6Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky 
    • Country of Origin: Japan
    • Distillery: Nikka Whisky Distillery
    • Age: No Age Statement
    • Proof: 90
    • Price: $99
    • Purchase location: www.astorwines.com (have seen locally)
    • Producer’s Tasting Notes:
      • Nose: Caramel, vanilla, nuts, fruit, fresh hay.
      • Palate: Dark sweets, grain, nuts, smoke.
      • Finish: Caramel, toast, smoked ham, and a hint of char.
    • Group Notes:
      • Nose: the producer’s notes are spot on.
      • Palate: hotter than expected at 90-proof. Some cinnamon and cherry were also present. No one picked up on the smoke.
      • Finish: the longest of all the bottles we sampled. No one picked up on the smoked ham, but that caramel and toast lingered for quite some time.
    • Why this bottle is featured: Nikka has decided to use the column still (aka Coffey still) rather than the more modern continuous stills to retain more character to their final product. The grains used here are primarily corn with a splash of barley. This Grain Whisky is distilled in a “Coffey still”, which is a very traditional and rare patent still Nikka imported from Scotland in 1963. The Coffey still produces a complex whisky with a mellow and sweet taste originating from the grain itself.

 

 

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