I did not know this but there are five types of Scotch whisky, each with a slightly different definition. Until now I thought there were only two, single malt whisky and blended whisky. The definitions of the five types of whisky are:
- Single Malt Whisky – whisky made at one distillery using pot stills and only malted barley. Example: Glenlivet 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- Single Grain Whisky – whisky made at one distillery using a continuous still, or using any type of still and grains other than malted barley. Example: Strathclyde Single Grain
- Blended Malt Whisky – whisky made by combining single malt whiskies from different distilleries. Example: Ballantine’s Finest Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
- Blended Grain Whisky – whisky made by combining single grain whiskies from different distilleries. Example: Teacher’s Highland Scotch Whisky
- Blended Whisky – whisky made by combining malt whisky and grain whisky. Example: Chivas Regal 12 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky
Each bottle of Scotch whisky you buy will have one of these five types indicated on the label.
Only about 10% of the Scotch whiskies on the market are single malt. However, single malt Scotch made up nearly 28% of the whisky exported from Scotland.
For all Scotch whisky the age indicated on the label refers to the number of years the whisky spent in casks. Very few whiskies come from a single cask. The mixing of spirits of different ages is permitted. The age indicated on the bottle indicates the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle, which has matured in oak casks in Scotland for a minimum of three years.
Are single malts better than blends? Well that comes down to personal taste. Many blended whiskies are cheaper than single malts but that doesn’t mean that single malts are better. Blended whisky can have a great range of flavour and can rival single malts not only for complexity and flavour, but also for price. Case in point: Macallan Estate single malt has a price tag of $349.50 while Chivas Regal 25 year old blend currently sells for $359.75.
Those new to the world of Scotch whisky usually begin by trying one or more blended whiskies, especially since they generally have a more favourable price point. It’s easy for single malt fans, like me, to write them off as cheap and uninteresting. However, after some discussion with a Scotch blend enthusiast and tasting some of his recommendations, I made some new discoveries and had to admit that there are some good blended whiskies.