The actual difference between single-malt & blended Scotch whiskey

Posted: October 21, 2019

Did you know that while whiskey is one of the world’s most common alcoholic drinks, it originates from one of the world’s smallest regions?

True ‘Scotch Whiskey’ refers only to a whiskey made in Scotland, and even there, to claim that title it must have been aged for a minimum of three years in oak!

And while many don’t understand the actual differences, single-malt Scotch Whiskey is considered the most prestigious (and therefore often the most expensive) ‘Scotch Whiskey’ option and preferred tipple-of-choice for the true whiskey aficionado.

So does it really matter that much? Well, that depends on what you are looking for in your whiskey. So let’s take a little time to explore what defines a single-malt or blended whiskey, and why a single-malt demands its higher price and has a more coveted reputation than its blended cousin — made in Scotland or otherwise.

In essence: if a bottle contains only malt whiskey from only one distillery, it is a ‘single-malt.’ But if a bottle has malt and grain whiskeys from different distilleries, it is known as a blended whiskey. That’s the simple explanation.

What is a malt whiskey?

Made from 100% malted (ground) barley, malt whiskey is twice distilled. The first distillation process is an old fashioned boiling-off of the liquid to remove impurities, and results in a liquid with around 20% alcohol. The second distillation occurs in a spirits still to ensure the product of a premium quality product. The alcohol content at the completion of this process is 60-75%. (Yes, it is then diluted, but taking the alcohol content to this level initially is one of the reasons why malt whiskeys are considered superior).

What is a grain whiskey?

A grain whiskey can be made from any single grain or a combination of barley, wheat, corn or rye grains. The grain whiskey label therefore tends to cover a more diverse range of products, such as straight rye or bourbon. Grain whiskeys are also single-distilled, skipping the old-fashioned first-boiling method. Instead, they are distilled directly in a spirits still and are only taken to the point of achieving the desired alcohol content.

Which is better?

As you can see, malt whiskey is more localised, focussed, refined and (many would say) superior product, made from only one type of grain & twice distilled, while grain whiskey can be made from a range of grains from different origins and its single distillation process creates less complexity and intensity of flavour.

Although a single-malt whiskey is probably the more traditional ‘Scotch,’ it commonly has stronger flavours from the malt (like tobacco, smoke, sour cherries, wood, leather or citrus) that are not exactly ‘easy-drinking’ for many people. And even blended Scotch malt whiskeys can vary dramatically in flavour from different growing regions, different grains, different distilleries and different recipes.

On the other hand, blended whiskey from a range of malt & grains can brings more of the rounder, smoother, sweeter flavours of the various grains to the palate (honey, vanilla, lighter oak, raisins) making these blended whiskeys often a more consumable drink.

So in the end it really comes down to personal preference! So why not do the comparison: check out the Glenfiddich Single-Malt Scotch Whiskey & Johnnie Walker Gold Label Blended Scotch in our store side by side, and decide which one best suits your tastes best.

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