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What's the Difference? Single Malt vs. Blended Whisky

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Scotch "neat" is an eloquent drink with a special allure that ignites passion by those who sip and savor it. And, it is a whisky indeed. There's Scotch whisky, there's bourbon whiskey, and there's Canadian whisky. The big difference is that each different country has an overabundance of different grains that they used to distill that particular "juice."

The one rule of thumb that's important to remember: much like Champagne must be made in Champagne, France, Scotch can only be made in Scotland.

What's the Difference?

Canadian whiskies can be made of rye, corn, or wheat. Scotch whiskies are made of barley and similar grains. And, there, you'll find some distinction between the different types of Scotch.

For instance, what is the difference between a single malt whisky and a single grain whisky? For starters, single grain whisky is being predicted by experts as the next trend in whisky. Here is the difference, according to the rules of the Scotch Whisky Association.

  • Single Malt Whisky — Single malt whisky is made entirely from malted grain (which, typically, is barley.) This is where things get confusing, because while single malt whiskies are typically made of malted barley, you could also have a single malt rye whisky. Well, at least you can in the United States. Scotland plays by different rules. A single malt whisky from Scotland will always be made from barley. A single malt whiskey is a great way to show off a distillery's particular style and flavor.
  • Single Grain (blended) Whisky — Think of a single grain (or blended) whisky as a combination of several single malt whiskies. Single grain whiskies are also distilled at a single distillery. The difference here is that single grain whiskies can be, and most often are, made of corn, wheat, or a blend. Single grain whiskies do not need to be malted or made from barley.

In both of these instances, single refers to being made in a single distillery; not a single grain, a single run or a single barrel. There are pretty strict requirements for how long whisky needs to be aged. In many countries, a single malt whisky needs to be aged at least two years by law (some countries require at least three years). In general, blended whiskies are aged at least five years. The type of barrels or casks that the whisky is aged in will have a dramatic impact on the flavor.

The taste resulting from a single grain blended whisky is often lighter and leaner than a single malt whisky. Because of the mix of ingredients you can get a much more varied flavor profile for a blended whisky.

Two Scotch Whiskies to Try

  • Wernyss Spice King Blended Malt Scotch Whisky has an aroma of red berries mingling with exotic sandalwood spiciness complementing a fresh, salty maritime note. Flavors of toasted oats with crushed peppercorns plus the coastal freshness of a heather moor on a damp Scottish day make it a breath of fresh air. With water, a spice mix from North Africa marries with the flavors of air-dried ham. As for the finish, as the peppery heat fades, a subtle smokiness is left smoldering.
  • Tomatin 12yr Single Malt Highland Scotch Whisky is elegant and airy with a big smooth texture, the 12 years aged Tomatin is a classic single Highland malt. A true delight for discerning whisky drinkers, Tomatin is carefully matured in traditional oak barrels to produce the lightly peated, delicate flavor which charms connoisseurs.

Notice the spelling of whisky and whiskey in this blog post and want to get your editor's hat on? It's whisky or whiskey (and whiskies or whiskeys), depending on the location. Read here for the lowdown on this brown spirit favorite and its multiple spellings.

Want to learn more about scotch and other terrific spirits? Check out our full Whiskey Guide and watch our Haskell's Event Page for upcoming scotch tastings—as well as wine, beer, and other events at our various locations.


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