Cask Strength Bottles to Display Bottling Date & Batch

I received an email from Laphroaig about two weeks explaining a new Scotch Whisky Association rule that requires all cask strength single malt Scotch whiskies to display a bottling date and batch number on each bottle. Laphroaig used to bottle all their cask strengths at 55.5% ABV but with the new rules, they’ll be bottling each batch individually with varying strengths and expressions. Since the cask strengths will no longer be blends of several casks, each will have slightly more distinction from bottling to bottling.

I’m not entirely sure why the rules were changed but it’ll certainly add a small little twist to each, here are the stats of Batch #1 of Laphroaig’s Cask Strength:
Batch 1 Facts
ABV: 57.8%/115.6 proof
Batch Date: February 2007
Tasting Notes: A full blast of massive peat smoke and seashore salt leads to a fading sweetness at the finish.
Batch Quantity: 5,100 bottles

How Many Calories in Whisky

The math of this is quite simple – there are 7 calories per gram of alcohol. To find out how many calories are in a shot of whisky, we simply need to convert that into grams, then calculate the grams of alcohol based on it’s proof, and multiply by seven. Simple right? A shot of anything is generally 1.50 fluid ounces, which is 41.7 grams.

Whisky can range in proof, starting at 80 proof, but we’ll stick with some simple math. Let’s go with 80 proof, or 40% alcohol, which gives us 16.68 grams of alcohol. If each gram has 7 calories, we know now that a shot of whisky has about 116.76 calories.

If you have a 43% ABV whisky, that’s 125.517 calories.

And if you drink a cask strength whisky at 60% ABV, then you’re talking a whopping 175.14 calories.

What Does Cask Strength Mean?

When I first started enjoying scotch, I was like every novice, I thought that more was better. The older the bottling, the better the scotch, right? The higher the alcohol by volume, the better the scotch, right? But like many things, older doesn’t mean better and neither does more.

When whisky is made, it’s stored in casks, or barrels, for many years. This new make whisky, as it’s called, can have an alcohol content anywhere from 60%-75%, depending on distillation. It’s potent stuff. As it matures, it loses some of its potency, known as the angel’s share. When it’s removed, depending on how old it is, it can still have a fairly high percentage of alcohol.

Normally distilled water is added to normalize the alcohol content to the standard bottling levels, however sometimes they normalize it at a might higher alcohol content for cask strength bottlings. For example, The Macallan Cask Strength, which has no age statement, has an alcohol by volume of 58.5%.

Is cask strength better? That’s debatable. At 58.5%, the burn of alcohol overpowers many of the subtle flavors in scotch. However, some people like the idea that you can get a taste of what it’s like straight out of the barrel, before water is added to bring it down to more pedestrian alcohol by volume levels. You can adjust it to your liking, instead of accepting the more standard levels of 43% or 40%.

I think it’s worth a try but unless you like your nose hairs singed off, I’d avoid getting a whole bottle.

Diluting Scotch with Water

When Scotch is taken directly from the cask, it’s at an alcohol by volume percentage known as “cask strength” or “barrel proof.” There is no standard for how strong “cask strength” is but most scotches are diluted down to around 40% ABV to 43% ABV. For those that don’t, usually older scotches where buyers want to have it at cask strength because it represents the product straight from the barrel, cask strength usually means it’s in the 60’s in terms of percentage alcohol by volume.

At cask strength, the alcohol really dominates most of the other flavors; which is why many enthusiasts will dilute the product down to a more typical 40%-43% ABV. By adding water, you also have a chemical effect on the whiskey; you break down ester chains and release some of the more volatile aromatic elements of the scotch. Ever notice that you’ll smell things you didn’t smell before when you’ve sipped the whiskey? That’s because the saliva, and other goodies, in your mouth also break down some of those ester chains.

How should you dilute the scotch? The best method is with distilled water, especially if you have particularly hard water (heavy in minerals). You want your water to be as flavorless as possible and distilled water is the best choice, second only to water from the distillery! How much should you add? Not too much if you’re drinking something already at 40%, maybe a dash to release some flavors.

Or… add none. 🙂

(Photo: neilbetter)