In my last article, I mentioned advanced whiskey terminology like Cask Strength, Single Cask, Angel’s Share and IB, etc., let me explain what they actually mean.
First of all, both Cask Strength and Single Cask refer to single barrel aging, but the standards of Cask Strength are more stringent than Single Cask’s.
We must first acknowledge the fact that even for relatively high-end single malt whisky, a large quantity of barrels are used for aging the same batch after distillation; therefore, unless a whisky is labelled Single Cask, it means the batch of whisky was aged in different barrels and mixed together upon bottling.
Whisky barrels are made of natural wood and are toasted or charred individually by hand, so each barrel is unique with its own characteristics and gives whisky a distinctive flavour through long term aging.
Winemakers utilise their expertise and mixing skills to create a whisky that reflects the distinctive characteristics of the whisky producer.
As for Single Cask, the winemaker would select an individual barrel for aging and the whisky would be bottled separately and labelled accordingly. But take note that even if labelled Single Cask, the whisky might be diluted with water and thus, has the same alcohol level as other malt whiskies, which is about 40%. Some brands might have an alcohol level of 45%, but the level is generally not too high.
Cask Strength means that a whisky is bottled straight from the barrel, meaning the single barrel whisky is at its original state without any additives and dilution, therefore the alcohol level of Cask Strength is quite high and usually over 60%, around 68 to 72%. The whisky will have a strong, thick aroma and flavour, and a more expensive price tag.
If you want to enjoy a Cask Strength whiskey to its fullest, the general practice is to slowly add room temperature water and experience the changing aroma but be careful not to add too much water or you will wash off the taste and defeat the purpose of drinking Cask Strength.
IB in fact is a kind of Cask Strength with the whisky bottled by an individual bottler. Aforementioned, each barrel is unique and thus each bottle is different, so if a barrel of whisky is off target due to the barrel or other reasons, the producer will make the decision to let it go.
A IB auction is held every year especially for distilleries to bid on barrels for whisky aging and eventual bottling when the time is ripe, that’s IB whisky. Renowned IB distilleries have their own fans and can often sell their whisky at a good price; however, this doesn’t mean all IB whiskies are good, be mindful of the bottling company and producing distillery.
Angel’s Share refers the 2% share of alcohol that is evaporated during barrel aging each year. In fact, the alcohol in spirits will slowly evaporate after bottling spirits, and this is the reason why the taste of whisky becomes denser and fuller as time passes.
Next time, we will talk about the characteristics of whiskies from different countries.
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