CS, SC, non-chill filtered – how to read whisky labels

Getting into the world of Scotch whisky sooner or later we will come across terms like "cask strength", "single cask" or "non-chill filtered". The frequency of finding these terms on increases with the progress of our adventure with whisky - the more often we try rare and older editions or bottlings from independent bottlers, the more often we find them on labels.

In this article we will try to explain the most common terms and explain their meaning. This article is especially recommended to people who are just starting their journey with Scottish "water of life".

CS - Cask Strength

This term indicates that the whisky was bottled with the alcohol strength it had achieved after maturation in the cask. Fresh distillate goes to casks with a strength of about 60%,  sometimes even above 80% (most often, however, it is 63.5%). Over time,  both the volume of whisky and its strength decrease, which in whisky world is described as "Angel's share".

Therefore, at the time of bottling whisky can achieve various strength, depending on the initial alcohol content in the distillate, as well as the rate of its volatilization in the aging process. The lower limit is 40%, and if it falls below this level, according to Scottish regulations that liquor cannot be called whisky.

Due to the fact that Cask Strength whisky is not diluted and more accurately reflects the original character of the spirit straight from the cask, this type of whisky is usually limited and much more desirable by connoisseurs. It is also worth mentioning that the CS marking does not necessarily mean a much higher alcohol content than the most common 40-46% - especially in the case of very old whisky, cask strength can be just over 40%.

SC – Single Cask

The term "Single Cask" just means that a given series of bottles comes from a single cask. Single cask bottlings are most often issued by independent bottlers or as limited series of a certain distillery. They are often numbered series and sometimes the number of a given cask is also written on the labels. These types of bottles are very desirable by connoisseurs and they achieve high prices, because single cask whisky is very unique and unrepeatable - it is not possible to bottle two identical aged whiskies from different casks.

Uncoloured / Natural colour

When we encounter such an inscription on a bottle, we know that the colour of whisky has not been improved by using caramel. By law, food caramel is the only ingredient that can be added to Scotch whisky - and this only applies to E150a caramel, a natural product of heating sugar. Theoretically, it should have only aesthetic significance and be neutral in aroma and taste.

Why is the majority of whisky available on the market coloured with caramel? The official version says that this is done to maintain the uniformity of the colour of batch whisky, in particular blended whisky. Various individual batches may differ in colour, and the addition of caramel maintains uniformity. On the other hand, it has been widely accepted that a darker whisky is more attractive to consumers. Dark colour is associated with longer aging and the use of first- and second-fill casks. The use of sherry casks also results in a darker coloured drink.

On the other hand, whisky labelled as "uncoloured" is considered to be more natural and closer to the original content of the cask, which also has a value for connoisseurs. Independent bottlers were the first to notice it, but soon after, large producers also began bottling editions in natural colour.

Non-chill filtered

If whisky is described as "non-chill filtered", it means that it has not been cold filtered. The vast majority of liquors available on the market are filtered but it does not mean anything wrong. Cold filtration is used so that the whisky does not become cloudy after cooling (some chemical compounds precipitate from the drink at low temperature), which may deter some consumers. To avoid this situation, most manufacturers filter these compounds before bottling, so that even after cooling the whisky it could maintain its transparency.

So why do some bottlers boast of not using cold filtration? Well, the "non-chill filtered" liquor is closer to the original contents of the cask, which is important for connoisseurs. Secondly, the chemicals that are the subject to filtration are not devoid of taste and odour, which disappear from the final product during the process.

But most of all, the lack of cold filtration is the domain of independent bottlers who direct their products to a more oriented recipient who usually does not cool his whisky and does not add ice to it. Whiskies from independent bottlers are also often bottled with much more strength, which hinders precipitation of the mentioned compounds.

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