Where Is All The Cask Strength Scotch Whisky?

Now that we know what cask strength whisky means, I bet you want to buy some and give it a taste. It turns out that not many distilleries offer a cask strength version of their whisky.

I think the reason is because there’s, relatively, no money in it. You can buy a bottle of Macallan Single Malt Scotch Cask Strength for around $55 dollars but a Macallan 18 will run you near $140 USD a bottle. The Cask Strength bottle costs about as much as the Macallan 15 Fine Oak, about $10 more than the Macallan 12, so it’s really stuck in between. It’s got punch but with no age statement you have no idea what’s in it (but you know it’ll be good). Maybe you have a 5 year old Macallan from a barrel that doesn’t look like it’ll make it to 10 years. Maybe you have the remnants of a bunch of barrels with a variety of ages. It’s a trade secret and while I suspect they do make an attempt for consistency, the key here is that it allows them to sell whisky that wouldn’t necessarily make it into another bottle with an age statement.

So if it’s younger, why is it priced higher than some bottles with age? Part of it has to do with the alcohol by volume. It’s higher, so there’s less water added to get it to 40% or 43%. A 750ml bottle with 57% abv has 427.5ml of alcohol (let’s just say we price it based on alcohol, which is inaccurate but works). A 750ml of Macallan 12 has 40% abv which means it has 300ml of alcohol. The cask strength has 42.5% more alcohol, which means it has more of the “good stuff.” I think this illustrates the idea (with numbers that are off) that there’s less added water, to get the right abv, in a cask strength so you need more Macallan to make it.

Now getting back to the age statement, there are exceptions to this, such as Laphroaig 10 year Original Cask Strength for around $62 USD. With a 55.7% ABV and an age statement, you can rest assured that it’s an expression they try to keep constant because they put an age and you know the youngest is 10 years. Outside of those with age statements, I think they may be able to get away with a little inconsistency because the heat tends to wash over all the flavors.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. If you want a little extra punch and don’t mind the higher alcohol, go for it. If you want to add water yourself, maybe get it slightly higher than the 40-43% ABV, cask strength can be your ticket. Either way, they’re typically fun to try, if only once.

8 thoughts on “Where Is All The Cask Strength Scotch Whisky?

    • That was probably the first one I ever tried, not even realizing it was cask strength. It’s a good dram but I need to open it up with some water. 🙂

  1. Just writiing to be sure that you don’t conflate cask strength whiskey with No Age Statement (NAS) whiskey. These are two distinct categories. They are both as you have described here but NAS whiskeys do not need to be cask strength (e.g. Japanese Nikka ‘s NAS Coffey Malt or Coffee Grain, or their Taketsuru – all bottled at 43-45% or the wonderful McCallan Editions No. 1 and 2 at 48%). Cask strength whiskeys vary f rom 50-60% ABV; sometimes they have age statements (E.G. Longrow Red 11 or 12 –51-52% or Gordon +McPhail’s Caol Isla 11 –59.9% ABV); sometimes they don’t (e.g. Abelour A’Bunagh various versions 59–60.2%). Sometimes distilleries bottle their own as Cask Strength (Abelour…even Lagavullin 8) but more often independent bottlers like G+M or Cadenhead or Murray McDavid –to name a few of the best — buy hogshead or barrels and bottle it, often with numbered bottles like “Bottle #3 of 456.”

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