This is an age-old debate among Scotch Whisky lovers. Before weighing in on the debate, let’s first look at what differentiates one from the other.
A Whisky that’s made by a single distillery using malted barley and pot stills is a Single Malt. No other types of grains can be used when making Malt Whisky.
Single Malt whisky is not required to be sourced from one barrel, a particular batch of barrels, or even distilled in one batch. Single malt whisky simply means that the whisky has been distilled, matured and bottled at one distillery. It may come from different barrels, batches and even have different ages. If a whisky is distilled, matured and bottled at a single distillery, it is, and can be labelled a Single Malt whisky.
Grain Whisky on the other hand can be distilled from any type of grain, whether it is unmalted barley, wheat, corn or rye. They can even use a combination of grains. It is interesting to note that 100% malted barley Scotch that is made with column stills is considered as a Grain Whisky.
Single Grain whisky, like Single Malt whisky, also denote the origin of the whisky from one distillery alone. Single Grain whisky must be distilled, matured and bottled at one distillery.
Malt whiskies are generally considered superior to grain whiskies because malt whiskies have more character than grain whiskies. This character comes mostly from the ‘impurities’ that are distilled away in consecutive distillation runs.
Grain Whisky is usually less expensive than Malt Whisky but that is not related to quality. Grain Whisky is generally distilled in column stills, which allows the distiller a continuous production that’s less expensive than batch distillation in pot stills. That reduces the price of blends, in addition to giving them a bit more body.
There is more Grain Whisky produced than Malt Whisky but there are far fewer distillers that make it. There are about 130 active Malt distilleries and the largest one, Glenfiddich, can produce 21 million litres of pure alcohol per year. On the other hand, Cameronbridge, the largest grain distiller, can produce up to 110 million litres per year. It is interesting to note though, that in 2020 the production of Grain and Malt Whisky in Scotland was almost identical.
Scotland has distilleries like Loch Lomond and Girvan that are making inroads with Scotch Grain Whisky. These distilleries are bottling Grain Whisky that is both high quality and well matured. Loch Lomond is producing Grain Whisky that has won awards and is well known for its smoothness and distinct light-bodied qualities. It is the first distillery in Scotland to produce both Grain and Malt whiskies at the same time.
So, to answer the question as to which type of whisky is better, Malt Whisky or Grain Whisky, the answer is up to you.