In the simplest terms, single malt Scotch whisky is distilled at only one distillery, using pot stills, with a mash of malted barley (hence single malt). It needs to be distilled in Scotland (obviously) and must be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years. The last piece of the process is where things get tricky.
While American bourbon needs to be aged in new, charred oak barrels exclusively, the oak that Scotch whiskies are aged in varies. Some are ex-bourbon barrels, some are new European oak casks, and some Scotches are finished in sherry-seasoned barrels, former sherry casks, and others are solely matured in ex-sherry butts.
Sherried single malts might be new to you, but the tradition actually began in the 1800s. GlenDronach was one of the first distilleries to mature its whiskies in sherry and still does so today.
Let’s take a step back for a second and delve into what exactly sherried whiskies are. To put it simply, these single malts are either matured (for some or all of their aging process) in sherry-seasoned or former sherry casks or finished in them (usually between six months and two years). This results in sweet, fruity, slightly nutty flavors that meld perfectly with the flavors of dried orange peels, caramel, and vanilla that are already prevalent in single malt Scotch whiskies.
While whisky purists might not agree with this style of aging and finishing, it definitely has its fans. That’s obvious when you realize that some of the biggest names in the Scotch whisky world use this process to add pronounced, nuanced, dessert-like flavors to their expressions. Below, you’ll find ten of the best examples of the technique. Some are simply sherry finished and others are matured in sherry casks. All are fruity, sweet, and memorable.
Aberlour A’bunadh Single Malt Scotch Whisky
One of the most popular sherry matured single malts between bartenders and drinkers alike, Aberlour A’bunadh is completely matured former Spanish Oloroso sherry butts. It’s bottled at cask strength (around 60 percent ABV depending on the batch) and is bold, robust, rich, and filled with hints of sweet sherry, toasted oak, sweet malts, dried fruits, vanilla, and sweet caramel. It’s potent, warming, and a great example of the style.
The Dalmore 12 Year Sherry Cask Select Single Malt Scotch Whisky
The Dalmore is a big name in the whisky world. Its award-winning 12-year-old expression is first matured in American ex-bourbon barrels. Then a portion is removed and finished in 30-year-old Matusalem Oloroso sherry casks. The two whiskies are then blended back together to create a single malt with flavors of candied orange peels, raisins, dried fruits, chocolate fudge, and sweet, mellow sherry.
Tamdhu 12 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
If you’re a single malt novice, the name Tamdhu might be new to you. But, if you’re interested in flavorful sherry bombs, you should remember this distillery. Its 12-year-old expression is aged in both first-fill and refill Oloroso sherry casks. This results in a slightly spicy, fruity whisky with hints of dried fruits, charred oak, ripe berries, and just a wisp of smoke at the finish. One sip and this sweet, memorable whisky will find a permanent spot on your home bar cart or liquor cabinet shelf.
Laphroaig 10 Year Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Laphroaig is well known for its peat-smoked, briny, slightly medicinal, astringent flavor. It’s not for everyone. But its fans are borderline fanatical. Its foray into the sweeter, sherry world is its Laphroaig 10 Year Sherry Oak. It’s distilled and aged the same way as its flagship 10-year-old before being finished in Oloroso sherry butts for another 12 months. This additional finishing adds flavors like sherry, honey, and extra nutty sweetness.
Shieldaig Oloroso Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Like Tamdhu, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Shieldaig. Named for the town the whisky is bottled in, Shieldaig is a brand of single malt whisky produced by Ian Macleod (a brand that also owns Tamdhu and Glengoyne). Its Shieldaig Oloroso Cask Finish is exactly as it seems. This single malt is matured in oak barrels before finishing in Oloroso sherry butts. The result is a slightly peaty, smoky whisky with hints of dried fruits, vanilla, and sweet sherry flavor. It’s sweet, smoky, and perfectly warming on a cool evening.
The Balvenie Doublewood 12 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
First launched in 1993, The Balvenie Doublewood 12 is aged in (you guessed it) two different types of oak. First, it’s aged in used American oak barrels before spending another nine months in former Oloroso sherry butts. This results in a well-balanced, complex single malt with notes of cinnamon, dried fruits, vanilla, orange zest, and just a hint of peaty smoke at the very end. It’s beloved by whisky fans for good reason.
GlenDronach 12 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
One of the most well-regarded distilleries for sherry-centric whiskies, GlenDronach’s 12-year-old expression is matured in both Spanish Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. This results in a slightly spicy, very fruity, mellow whisky with hints of sticky toffee pudding, chocolate fudge, dried cherries, raisins, and dried orange peels. It’s sweet, smooth, and well-suited as an after-dinner digestif.
The Macallan 12 Year Double Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky
There are few names in the single malt world bigger than The Macallan. While you can’t go wrong with its flagship 12-year-old expression, we prefer The Macallan 12 Year Double Cask. It’s aged in a combination of American oak and European sherry butts for at least 12 years. This creates a single malt loaded with flavors like dried berries, honey, vanilla beans, and butterscotch. Crack open a bottle and compare it side by side to the original 12-year-old. You’ll be happy you did.
Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Auchentoshan Three Wood is a complex, complicated, well-balanced whisky. Aged in a combination of ex-bourbon casks, Oloroso sherry butts, and Pedro Ximénez Sherry casks, it’s highlighted by flavors like sweet sherry, sticky toffee pudding, milk chocolate, dried cherries, and a nice woody, warming finish. It’s a great combination of richness, sweetness, and spice that’s well-suited for slow sipping on a brisk fall evening.
Glenfarclas 105 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
We could choose several Glenfarclas whiskies for this list. But our favorite is Glenfarclas 105. This bold, potent, cask-strength whisky doesn’t carry an age statement and that’s okay with us. But it’s believed to be matured between eight and ten years in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and former sherry butts. The result is a 120 proof, bold single malt whisky with notes of candied orange peels, ripe berries, pecans, slight pepper, and sweet caramel. The finish is spicy, sweet, and unforgettable.
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