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Understanding Scotch Whiskey: What’s single-malt, anyway?


Scotch is becoming an increasingly popular spirit, and people are seeing it at parties and get-togethers more and more. However, with all the different brands and types of scotch whiskey out there, many new scotch drinkers are a bit confused. First thing to know is your malts and blends - that way you can understand what gives a whiskey its flavor profile, and how to best pick something that matches your tastes.

Scotch whiskey is labeled as single-malt or blend. The standard definition of these words leads many people to think that single-malt means that the product comes from a single batch of whiskey. Contrary to popular belief, single-malt scotch is a blend, but a specific type of blend. All whiskey on the market now are blends, including bourbons, ryes, Tennessees, scotches, and more. A whiskey blend is the combination of both barrel aged malt and grain whiskey . What is the difference between single and blended then?

Single-malt simply means that the whiskey comes from one distillery. Single-grain scotch whiskey has the distinction of containing barley and one or more other cereal grains like wheat of corn. However, the single refers to all the whiskey being made at the same distillery, not the same grain.

Blending whiskey has become such a standard practice because of the varying conditions of making the spirit. Whiskey is aged in oak barrels that are influenced by many environmental factors like location of the barrel within the warehouse and quality of oak used for the barrel, for example. To create a consistent product, the whiskeys from these barrels are blended to get the right flavor. It is still possible to get your hands on scotch whiskey that comes from only one barrel, and for that you’re look for single-barrel scotch .

There are three other scotch whiskey blends that you’ll encounter most often:

Blended malt scotch whiskey : This style used to be called vatted malts, and it is a blend of single malts from at least two distilleries.

- Blended grain scotch whiskey: This is a blend of single grains from at least two distilleries. The flavor profile is usually light and mild.

Blended scotch whiskey : This type of whiskey is the most common, accounting for 90 percent of the scotch whiskey on the market. Blended scotch whiskey is a mix of malt whiskies and grain whiskies sourced for many distilleries.


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