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NB: There are products branded as single malt vodka (so the quick answer is Yes), but my question is more about whether such statements have any real meaning?

More detail

In a discussion the other day a friend pointed out that whisky (/ whiskey) isn't whisky until it's been aged in a barrel for some time. Before it goes into the barrel it's essentially vodka.

That triggered a thought; the "malt" in malt whisky refers to it's being made from malted barley. As such, I assumed that were you to take the pre-aged whisky ("new make spirit" / vodka), that must therefore be a single malt because it has the same malt as the whisky which would be made from it.

My friend pointed out that the single malt whisky is a single malt not because of the malt going in, but based on what comes out of the barrel; i.e. if made in a single barrel it's a single malt, if the combined contents of multiple barrels it's blended. Thus, he argued, calling something single malt before it's been aged makes no sense, even though the ("single") malt is put in before the aging takes place / "no malts are extracted by aging".

I guess the argument's similar to talking about cake mix; i.e. if I baked a chocolate sponge and a vanilla sponge I'd get 2 cakes which would be distinct (even if I mashed them together a bit), whilst if I blended the cake mix I'd only get one cake / technically it was baked from a single mix even though that mix was itself a mix of mixes / the term single cake mix has no real meaning here (so single malt vodka wouldn't either).

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    Actually vodka may be distilled from cereals, potatoes, fruit, or plan sugar. – roetnig Mar 17 '18 at 19:39
  • Thanks @roetnig; that argues the case for a malt vodka or even an only malt vodka, but not sure if it addresses the single malt point. It is tempting to consider some of the potential implications for non-malt based "whiskey"'s though... Though I guess such drinks have other names... – JohnLBevan Mar 17 '18 at 20:17
  • I don't suppose you looked at the results from the Google search you posted? Particularly this one: evewine101.com/2013/02/28/… – Catija Mar 18 '18 at 18:20
  • @Catija yes, I saw a few blogs and marketing things; nothing authoritative though. I've also come across this post discussing barrel aged vodkas: forum.whiskymag.com/viewtopic.php?t=4131. Sadly lots is said in debate but there's no clear delineation rules stated anywhere I can see, and it's a topic people like to sound authoritative on even if they're not, so you can easily play blog wars until you find conclusions which match your own beliefs. – JohnLBevan Mar 18 '18 at 18:46
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    ... So, part of the process of making whisky is making vodka... if that's what you want to call it... heck, part of the process of making whisky is making beer, though unhopped beer. I'm not really seeing how that disagrees with anything. – Catija Mar 18 '18 at 18:53
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I think you (and your friend) are confusing two similar terms.

  • "Single Malt" - the making of spirit from a single type of grain by a produced by a single distiller (for whisky, that's malted barley in the UK and malted rye in the US)
  • "Single Barrel/Cask" - the process of bottling each aged cask of liquor separately without mixing the casks together first.

"Blended" refers not to blending of the various casks from one batch together, but instead to blending together whiskys distilled by multiple distilleries or blending single malt with grain whisky. From the Wikipedia article on single malt:

To be called a single malt whisky in Scotland, a bottle may only contain whisky distilled from malted barley and produced at a single distillery. The regulations of other countries may allow malted rye.

If the bottle is the product of malt whiskies produced at more than one distillery, the whisky is called a blended malt or vatted malt, or pure malt. If a single malt is mixed with grain whisky, the result is a blended whisky. Single malts can be bottled by the distillery that produced them or by an independent bottler.

So, in the case of "single malt vodka", that apparently means

“So what is meant by single malt vodka?” Elena queried.

“Most often, single malt vodka is 100% malted barley as the only ingredient.”

If you look at brands of vodka that call themselves this, this seems correct. Valt, Franciacorta Single Malt Vodka, East Coast Single Malt Vodka, and several others list the sole ingredient as "malted barley". Whether it's aged or not seems to depend on the maker.

  • Thanks @Catija. This agrees with what I was drunkenly arguing on the night of the discussion, so definitely happy to accept as the answer ;) – JohnLBevan Mar 18 '18 at 18:57
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    Yeah, it's an easy mistake to make... particularly when inebriated :D Glad to help. – Catija Mar 18 '18 at 18:58
  • I would note that the term "single malt" is definitely a very specific one defined within UK law to protect traditional whiskymaking practices. You can make vodka from just about anything that will ferment, and there are other craft brands (Karlsson's Gold is a notable one) that make small batches out of things like a specific heritage cultivar of potato. While "single malt vodka" might not mean much, other producers apply similar methods to their vodka, there just isn't a specific, widely-used legal term for the practice. – logophobe Mar 19 '18 at 17:19

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