How to read a whisky bottle: essential things to look for

As the old saying goes: always read your bottle before popping the cork.

It is often thought that an older single malt will be a better one. But is a number on a bottle the best thing to consider when you’re looking for a great-tasting whisky? You can learn a lot from a whisky bottle before you’ve tasted a sip, especially if you know what you’re looking for.

So, how do you read a whisky bottle?

Distillery or Brand Name

Exactly as it says; the distillery and the brand name are often used interchangeably. Each distillery brings their own expertise and distillation process to their whiskies. The obvious exceptions here are blended whiskies which source whiskies from multiple distilleries released under a different brand name, like Johnnie Walker.

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Type of Wood It Has Been Aged In

“Oak, Sherry, Refill Bourbon” all whiskies have been aged and matured in casks. The type of wood that the whisky has been aged in imparts unique flavours. Ex-Sherry casks will add sweetness to the whisky whereas ex-Bourbon casks adds increased depths of flavour. Master blenders are increasingly experimenting with different cask finishes such as port and cognac. Some whiskies are Single Cask, where they are bottled from an individual cask and often the bottles are labeled with specific barrel and bottle numbers.

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As it says on the tin, the age of the liquid in the bottle. Scotch whisky law dictates that spirit is not considered whisky unless it has been matured for a minimum of three years. Important to note though, the age displayed on the label refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle. Fear not though, there are more often than not samples from much older whiskies in each bottle that help create the complex flavours we all enjoy.

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Region and Type of Whisky

Scotch whisky is the spiritual home of whisky with five distinct whisky producing regions; Campbeltown, Lowlands, Highlands (including Speyside), Islands and Islay. Each region has its own characteristics and unique flavour profiles. Try out a few other bottles from the region to see what you like.

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Bottle Size

In the EU the standard bottle size is 70cl (700ml), per EU directives of 1992. Although you’ll also find miniatures that are typically 50ml and in global travel airport outlets globally the standard bottle size is 1 litre.

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Distilleries are increasingly releasing collections of whiskies which can take you on an incredible journey of the senses. Collections can be a number of different bottles released all at once, like the Special Releases, or special collections like the Talisker 44 Year Old. These collections are often limited in number of bottles released making them highly collectable.

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Non-chill filtered

When whisky has ice or water added, it naturally goes cloudy due to the decrease in temperature. Some perceive this cloudiness leading to a negative consumption experience so instead, before bottling, they chill the whisky down and filter out the elements that create cloudiness. Hence, non-chill filtered or ‘natural’ whisky tastes have become a signal of quality in the whisky world and are called out on pack.

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