What is exactly a “Single malt”, a “single grain” or a “blended”?
Whisky is a complex spirit. The range of different classifications and rules that each type of whisky must meet means that two bottles are never identical. Whisky can become a single malt, a single grain, and more often a blended. They can often be confusing, so in this post we will find out what exactly makes a “single malt”, “a grain” or a “blended”.
The first step in understanding the term “single malt” is to establish to which part of the whisky making process each word in the term applies. First, let’s look at the term “single.” This is the most confusing part of the term, as it can be applied to various factors related to whisky. For example, a common misconception about single malt whisky is that the word “single” means that the whisky must be the product of a single batch, or single barrel, of whisky. However, this is not the case. In fact, almost all single malt whiskies are blends. When we say “mix”, we mean the process of combining whisky from different barrels and different ages to form the final product. Different barrels bring flavors to whisky in different ways, so distilleries combine whisky to find a balance of flavors to form their single malt.
if the word “single” does not refer to the barrel or batch, what does it refer to? “Single malt” simply means that whiskey is the product of a unique distillery. So while a single malt may contain whisky from many different casks, all that whiskey must have been produced by a single (one) distillery.
Next, let’s look at the term “malt.” This is less confusing between the two, as there is not much more that this word can refer to other than the grain used to make whisky. In the case of “single malt”, this grain is exclusively barley. Therefore, “single malt” refers to the fact that whisky should only be produced with water and barley malt.
While this term can be easily confused with “single malt” for its similarity, it is important not to confuse the two as they are quite different. One of the factors they have in common is that the “single” in both terms refers to the decision that each whiskey must be produced in a single distillery. However, the main difference is that single-grain whiskeys should not be made from battered barley. In fact, other grains such as wheat, corn, or rye could be used, and may or may not be mixed. As a result, “single grain” whiskies usually offer sweeter notes on smoky aromas.
“Single grain” whiskies also differ from the ills they have as a distillation. Single malts are distilled with traditional stills, while “single grain” is distilled with column stills. Worked in batches and are mainly used to create a tasty product.
Blended Scotch whisky
As mentioned above, different whiskies are often combined. The need arose to mix because, at that time, “single malt” had a very strong and raw taste that not everyone enjoyed. Through the combination, Usher was able to create a scotch with a softer flavor and that appealed to a wider market. Today, about nine out of ten bottles of scotch sold worldwide are sold as “Blended scotch whisky”. Prior to 2009, any Scotch whisky blend could qualify as a blended scotch. However, the Scotch Whisky Regulations now state that blended Scotch whisky must contain a combination of one or more single malt Scotch whiskeys and one or more “single grain” Scotch whiskies.
The ratio of grain to malt in the mixture varies from bottle to bottle. The grain forms the body of the whiskey, while the malt gives the whiskey additional flavors. As a result, more expensive blended Scotch whiskeys will tend to use a higher percentage of malt in their blend. Alongside this new legislation, there were two new categories of blended whiskey: “low-malt whisky” and “blended scotch whisky ”. While “blended scotch whiskey” covered all of these terms, the change to what exactly a blended scotch whiskey defined required the introduction of these two new classifications. Mixed malt Scotch whiskey means that it is made from a mixture of two or more mesh malt whiskeys from different distilleries. Similarly, a blended grain Scotch whiskey is the mixture of two or more single grain Scotch whiskeys from different distilleries. Mixed malt sweeping is the more common of the two, but there are some distilleries that sell blended neckline for truly curious whisky connoisseurs.
Scotland´s Whisky Regions
Scotland boasts a renowned legacy in whisky production, steeped in a rich historical tapestry. Whisky, also known as Scotch, emerges from a meticulous distillation process involving malted barley, water, and yeast. The captivating taste and scent of Scotch whisky draw influence from numerous elements, including barley variety, water origins, distillation techniques, aging duration, and the specific cask employed.
The country delineates its whisky canvas into five distinctive regions: Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay. Each enclave holds its own unique essence, characterized by flagship whiskies emblematic of their regional excellence.
- Highlands: Spanning the northern and western expanses, the Highlands stand as Scotland’s largest and most diverse whisky region. Renowned for their robust, intricate profiles, Highland whiskies encompass a spectrum of flavors from sweet and fruity to spicy and smoky. Loch Lomond, Glencadam, Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Oban, and Highland Park epitomize the Highland’s renowned expressions.
- Lowlands: Situated in the southernmost reaches with its flat, fertile terrain, the Lowlands region crafts whiskies known for their light, smooth, and delicate nature. Infused with floral, grassy, and citrus notes, these whiskies often undergo triple-distillation, resulting in a cleaner, softer character. Bladnoch, Littlemill, Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, and Daftmill shine as flag bearers for the Lowlands.
- Speyside: Nestled along the River Spey in the northeast, Speyside stands as the world’s most densely populated whisky region, housing over half of Scotland’s distilleries. Celebrated for their refinement and complexity, Speyside whiskies exude flavors of honey, vanilla, orchard fruits, and nuts, often aged in sherry casks. Glenfarclas, Tomintoul, Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Balvenie are among the distinguished Speyside offerings.
- Campbeltown: Once the whisky capital with over 30 distilleries in the 19th century, Campbeltown now houses three distilleries, yet remains a producer of uniquely distinct whiskies. Rich, complex, and endowed with salt, smoke, fruit, and spice flavors, Campbeltown whiskies like Glen Scotia, Springbank, and Kilkerran continue to captivate enthusiasts.
- Islay: Off Scotland’s west coast lies Islay, characterized by its rugged terrain. Islay whiskies command attention for their intense peatiness, rendering a distinctive smoky, medicinal, and maritime character. Typically aged in bourbon casks, these whiskies boast hints of sweetness and vanilla. Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Bowmore stand tall as Islay’s flag-bearers.
Scotland’s whisky regions offer an enthralling array of whiskies, each possessing its individual allure and character. Enthusiasts are invited to savor the diverse styles and flavors of Scotch whisky, cherishing the craftsmanship and tradition that underpin each distinct offering.