While the answer to the question “What’s the difference between single malt vs. blended whiskey?” might be obvious to seasoned whiskey connoisseurs, it’s a common query amongst many.
In essence, single malt whiskey is both distilled and bottled at a singular distillery, while blended whiskey is distilled at multiple distilleries.
Interestingly, single malt might still be a blend of different malted whiskeys, and so the word single refers to its place of origin and a singular type of grain.
Added to this, blended whiskeys contain both malt and grain whiskey (which might include corn, rye, or wheat), whereas malt whiskeys are made purely from malted barley.
Dating back to medieval Scotland, this drink was once referred to as ‘the water of life’ and even the ‘nectar of the gods.’ It enjoyed notoriety in Gaelic traditions and this popularity has prevailed.
It was originally sold as a medical tonic that could cure a plethora of ailments from aging to joint problems and even today enjoys prestige for certain health benefits when consumed in moderation.
For those looking for a more nuanced understanding between the two, the following guide explores the subtleties between the two drinks.
Single Malt versus Blended Whiskey (Compared)
While specs vary according to the distillery and the particular malt or blend, here are some basic differences between single malt and blended whiskey.
Single malt whiskey has, in popular culture, often received more significant acclaim and is sometimes regarded as being better quality than its blended counterpart.
This notion has led to assumptions that it is always a smoother drink and more flavorful and many whisky purists might prefer the single blends. Nonetheless, there are several excellent blended whiskeys on the market that boast a variety of flavors.
Interestingly, demands are higher for blended types because they take less time to age and are usually more affordable. Added to this, about 90% of malted whiskey is used in blends. Some find blended varieties are easier on the palette.
Despite common misconceptions, single malt whiskeys are often a blend of different barrels of malted barley. However, they always come from one distillery and use malted barley exclusively.
Blended varieties come from multiple distilleries and use a selection of grains including rye, corn, or even wheat.
Some find single malts are stronger and harder to consume but often they’re favored by real whiskey connoisseurs.
Single malt whiskey and blended whiskey are made using different processes. Malt whiskies are made traditionally, offering a ‘handcrafted,’ artisanal product. This method is called the ‘pot still’ process and includes fermentation, distillation, and maturation.
First, barley is malted in water until it germinates. The malting process can take about a week, and the malt is then dried in a kiln. Then the malt is ground and mixed with hot water – known as mashing. This mixture is transported into wash bags, and yeast is added. This leads to fermentation, and the mixture is distilled twice in large copper kettles.
Distillation is repeated in a specialized spirit still and eventually moved to oak casks for maturation. It must mature for at least three years to be considered a malt but usually matures for five years or more.
On the other hand, blended varieties are made from various grains. The technique is called the patent still process and makes larger batches than pot stills.
Malted barley mash is added to other grains (which are cooked and then fermented). Distillation happens in a Coffey Still, and the resulting drink is usually lighter.
Blended varieties arose in Scotland in the 1860s and were known for their gentle flavor. Globally, they make up about 90 percent of whiskey production.
Single Malt or Blended Whiskey
Single malt is made purely from malted barley and is bottled and distilled at a singular distillery. It might be a mix of different barrels, but it’s always of the malted variety.
It usually takes longer to age and can be left in the barrel for up to 15 years but typically a single malt whiskey takes five to ten years to age.
On the other hand, Blended whiskey is made from a different variety of grains, including malted barley.
When malt grains are used in a blended variety, they might have been in the barrel for as short as three years and thus the process is quicker.
Blended whiskeys are distilled at multiple distilleries and take less time to age.
Since they are a mixture of single malt and other varieties which use cheaper grains (like corn, wheat, or rye), they are often more affordable and quicker to make so they are produced on a much larger scale globally.
Single Malt Whiskey
Single malt whiskey is usually blended in smaller batches and the process utilizes pot stills. It takes longer to age and is often celebrated for its superior flavor and ability to be a standalone drink.
Interestingly, it can only be called Scotch whisky if it is produced in Scotland. Scottish whisky is also spelled without the ‘e’ and this is often a telling sign of where your drink has been produced.
While single malts are praised for their earthy flavor and superior taste, they can also be pricier than blended counterparts, and thus might be better suited for special occasions.
- Full character and great, earthy flavor
- Aged for between 5 and 15 years for a fuller flavor
- Favored by whiskey connoisseurs and often regarded as a superior liquor
- A myriad of health benefits when consumed in moderation, aged whiskey has shown particular benefits to brain health
- Often sold at a higher price
- A longer aging process (up to 15 years)
Blended whiskeys are a combination of malted varieties and other grain varieties and are distilled in a range of distilleries.
The proportion of malt in blended whiskeys truly depends on the brand and thus, all blended varieties are different.
For example, Chivas Regal has around 50% of malted barley in its composition, but a Johnny Walker Red Label only has 10 – 15%.
Blending whisky is an art form in and of itself, and blenders need to systematically blend the different varieties, all the while ensuring flavor consistency.
- Diversity in flavor
- Industrial, larger-scale production
- More affordable than single-malt varieties due to this large scale production and the use of different grains
- Takes less time to age
- A lighter, more accessible flavor that some whiskey drinkers might look down on
- Contains cheaper grains like wheat and corn
Single Malt Whiskey and Blended Whiskey (FAQ)
Is single malt whiskey better than blended whiskey?
This is a hugely personal question. In popular culture, single malt has sometimes received more praise due to it aging longer in the barrel and being handcrafted.
There are some brilliantly blended varieties on the market and ultimately, it depends on your unique flavor profile.
Many people enjoy both single malt and a blended whiskey and thus, it does not have to be an either/or scenario.
Is Johnnie Walker single malt or blended?
Johnnie Walker sells both single malt and blended varieties. Most of their whiskeys are blended, however, their Green Label is a single malt that has been aged for 15 years.
Their most expensive whiskey however is the blended Blue Label which has been aged for over 20 years.
Which is more expensive, single malt or blended?
Single malt is usually more expensive. At a 2017 Sotheby’s Auction in Hong Kong, the Macallan Lalique single malt collection sold for $993,000.
Some blended varieties are also on the pricey side but this largely depends on your brand of choice. There are some fantastic (and pricey) blended whiskeys too.
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