Traditionally, the single grain scotch whisky category was not something that you would see bottled and sold as it is mainly used for blends, where they add body and texture. There is, however, a growing market for single grain bottlings, especially under various independent bottler labels.
There seems to be a misconception of single grain scotch whisky being of lower quality or somehow less palatable than single malt. Of course, the two are different, but different doesn’t have to be negative.
So, what is the difference?
The main difference between single grain and single malt is that single malts can only be produced from malted barley. Single grain scotch whisky is made by one single distillery using any cereal from barley, rye, wheat and corn, and these can be malted or unmalted. So, the single here refers to the distillery, not the number of grains used.
The spirit usually goes through a continuous distillation process (also known as patent still distillation), but single malt must be made using a pot still. Although, as always, there are some exceptions. Arbikie Highland Rye, for example, is distilled using copper pot stills.
If you are new to scotch whisky, see my previous article The Beginner’s Guide to Scotch Whisky.
Sweet flavours of single grain
Generally speaking, single grain whiskies are light and sweet – a great introduction to the whisky category as a whole. The ones I have tried in the past always seemed to have a lovely, soft mouthfeel to them.
These are whiskies that you could spend hours nosing due their delicious aromas of butterscotch, whipped cream, vanilla custard, marshmallows, salted butter, caramel and icing-coated pastries. Sometimes these notes also transfer onto the palate (whipped cream on a waffle, anyone?) with some spices such as ginger, black pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. The finish is often shorter than in single malt.
The colour is usually pretty light due to the refill casks used. Most single grain whiskies have been matured in refill ex-bourbon casks, although there are some exceptions, from new oak to refill sherry butts.
How to drink it
You can drink it as you prefer. Sip it neat, add a drop or two of water or even some ice. Unlike with single malts, many prefer to add a couple of ice cubes into their single grain whiskies to open up the flavours. As the flavour profile is often closer to a bourbon than a single malt, the ice does make more sense. Even putting the bottle in the freezer and serving the whisky ice-cold can create a great tasting experience.
Single grain scotch can also be used in a Highball. Alternatively, replace the soda with ginger ale.
This is a single grain scotch from a closed distillery. A very rare release by the indie bottler The Whisky Cellar. I recommend keeping an eye out for his future series, as each time there are some tasty single grains as well.
This Cambus is a blend of two refill ex-bourbon hogsheads. It has sweet aromas of vanilla custard with notes of ginger, green apples, whipped cream on a waffle and subtle chilli at the beginning.
This is a single cask grain whisky from Invergordon Distillery. It has a creamy palate, with those yummy vanilla and buttery fudge notes as well as a touch of oak and citrus.
This 2020 release was matured in new charred American oak casks. Expect aromas of jam, fudge and cinnamon and flavours of biscuit dough, honeyed cereal, chocolate cake and candied ginger.
I have tried this one sometime ago and it was absolutely divine!
You can also find another bottle of Arbikie Highland Rye from The Whisky Exchange. It is distilled from a mix of Aranted Scottish rye, Viscount wheat and Odyssey malted barley, before being matured in a combination of charred American oak casks and ex-Armagnac barrels. The palate offers sweet notes of sticky dates and dried apricot with some white pepper spice.
A single grain from a now-silent Glasgow-based grain distillery. Aged in American white oak casks for 29 years, this is a light and sweet whisky with notes of butterscotch, vanilla and tropical fruits.
Yet another single grain release by an indie bottler. Signatory Vintage has released a good few single grain scotch whiskies from Cameronbridge, Cambus, Carsebridge and Caledonian.
This 1991 North British was matured in a single refill sherry butt before being bottled in January 2022.
This is part of the Distillery Reserve Collection by Chivas Brothers. Expect the classic sweet notes of vanilla, cinnamon and apricot.
This is a peated single grain expression with aromas of berry jam, fragrant smoke and baking spices. On the palate you can expect orchard fruits, heather and sweet peat.
Have you tried any single grain scotch whiskies? What did you think?
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