While some swear single malt scotch is the only whisky worth sipping, others are loyally devoted to blends—and the battle rages on.
There are some common misconceptions when it comes to the difference between the two, as the word single can be quite deceptive.
So what exactly does single mean?
A single malt scotch whisky is produced from malted barley. But here’s where the confusion comes in: “single” does not mean that the product came from one single batch or barrel. Instead, it refers to the fact that the whisky is the product of one distillery and contains whisky from multiple barrels (normally aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years) produced at that location. The year on the label refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle—ie. a 12yr scotch may contain whisky from barrels aged for longer but it must be labeled based on the barrel aged for the least amount of time.
Single grain scotch whisky is similar to single malt whisky in that the whisky is produced at the same distillery. Where they differ is single grain whisky contains barley and one or more other cereal grains such as rye or wheat. Again, in this case, single only refers the fact that the whisky is from one distillery and not that it comes from a single type of grain or a single barrel.
Single-barrel or single cask scotch is just as it sounds—from one single barrel of whisky. These are much more rare and exclusive than other single malts. Characteristics of the whisky (flavour, colour, bouquet) produced in each barrel vary from one to the next, so every single-barrel release is different.
Now that we have that sorted out, let’s move on…
What about blends?
Now that we’ve clarified “single”, hopefully the word “blended” makes a bit more sense in relation…
Blended malt scotch whisky contains single malt whisky from multiple distillery locations. Some blends include up to 40 different whiskies in a single bottle.
Blended grain scotch whisky contains single grain scotch whisky from several distilleries.
Blended scotch whisky is from two or more distilleries and contains several kinds of grains—a mix of both malt whisky and grain whisky. Most of the blended scotch purchased at liquor stores today falls into this category.
With so many variables, we recommend trying a variety of both single malt and blended scotches to determine whether you have an inclination for one over the other or simply enjoy both.