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Single Malt Scotch vs. Blended Scotch Whisky: Dewar’s, JohhnieWalker, Chivas Regal & Talisker, Laphroaig, Oban & Balvenie

dram of scotch 200x300 Single Malt Scotch vs. Blended Scotch Whisky: Dewars, JohhnieWalker, Chivas Regal & Talisker, Laphroaig, Oban & BalvenieNot on the Rocks! 

By Eric Duncan

Rules to Live by for the Aspiring Scotch Connoisseur; Single Malt Scotch Whisky vs. Blended Scotch Whisky 

 This is only meant to serve as a brief introduction and overview of the differences between Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Blended Scotch Whisky. There is also Bourbon Whiskey, Irish Whiskey, Canadian Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, etc.

 Single Malt Scotch and Blended Scotch Whisky are similar spirits but are often incorrectly assumed to be interchangeable.  A single malt scotch is distilled of only malted barley and water at one distillery.   Where as Blended Scotch Whisky is typically 60-80% grain whiskey mixed with several single malt scotch’s.

Blended Scotch Whisky uses the grain whisky to cut the “harshness” of the pure single malts. It is typically distilled in the “low lands” and has a more mellow flavor then a single malt scotch.   Every major Blended Scotch Whisky producer has a “Master blender” who creates combinations of several single malts and grain whisky’s to produce a flavor unique to their brand.  They not only need to know mixture of the current single malt’s they utilize but they need to know what other single malts they can substitute if the quality or availability of a certain single malt changes. They are also responsible to sample every batch to ensure consistency in their product.  Examples of Blended Scotch Whisky are;  Dewar’s, JohhnieWalker, J&B, The Famous Grouse and Chivas Regal.

Single Malt Scotch has a wide array of tastes, which vary depending on; the malt and water used, where it is produced, if peat is used in the drying process, how it is stored and for how long it is stored.  The scotch must be matured for at least 3 years to be considered a Single Malt Scotch.   As a Scotch matures it continues to change in character and begins to mellow. The older Scotch is often more expensive due to further evaporation during the maturation process as well as the prolonged marketing.

The beauty of single malt scotch is that there are a multitude of variables that alter the taste, color and aroma.  In the end it comes down to a personal preference of the taster and what characteristics they enjoy. A peaty scotch has a discernable smoky flavor to it because the peat is added to the fire that is used to dry the malt after the germination process.  The type of cask a scotch is matured in changes the flavor as well.  Bourbon and Sherry casks are the most commonly used, but Bordeaux wine, port and Cognac are some other commonly utilized casks.  Single Malt’s such as Balvenie are often available in a double cask addition where they are transferred to a second cask  towards the end of the maturation process to pick up additional characteristics.   Single Malts that are matured by the ocean often pick up a slight trace of the salty ocean air in their flavor.  A few examples of Single Malt Scotch include; Talisker, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Oban, Balvenie, Singleton of Glendullan, Jura, Caol Ila, Ardbeg, and Bruichladdich.

One of the most important differences between Blended Scotch Whisky and Single Malt Scotch is in the way they should be served.   Blended Scotch Whisky is typically served in a glass tumbler.  On the other hand, Single Malt should be served in a tulip glass.  The tulip glass has a bulb shaped bottom and narrows out toward the top.  The wide bottom allows the flavor to mature in the glass while the narrow top helps to keep the aroma locked in, similar to a snifter.

It is common place to hear Blended Scotch Whisky ordered on the rocks or with a finger or two of water added.  Since Blended Scotch Whisky is already diluted at least 60% by the grain whiskey this is an acceptable way to drink this spirit.  Single Malt should be served with only a couple drops of distilled water added.  This serves to break the surface tension which opens up the flavor of the single malt.   Adding more water or putting it on the rocks simply dilutes the taste and compromises the integrity of the single malt.

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9 comments to Single Malt Scotch vs. Blended Scotch Whisky: Dewar’s, JohhnieWalker, Chivas Regal & Talisker, Laphroaig, Oban & Balvenie

  • Eric Duncan

    I appreciate the constructive criticism, however, to say “unknowlegable” would imply that the majority of the article was filled with misinformation. I may have used dram instead of glencairn and in my haste I did put “master distiller” instead of “master blender”. However, the rest of the article did exactly what the first line stated it would do,”serve as a brief introduction and overview of the differences between Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Blended Scotch Whisky”.

    I would also like to clarify the 3 year – 8 year debate. Although 3 years is the amount of time that a single malt scotch must be aged to be called scotch, it cannot be marketed until it has been aged for 8 years. Before 8 years it can only be used for blending. For the purpose of this article we were talking about single malt consumption not blending.

    The article was written because I was tired of seeing people order a single malt scotch and treating it like a blended scotch whisky, by throwing it on a mound of ice cubes. In some circles, one ice cube is acceptable, but I still feel it dilutes the taste. If the 120 proof Aberlour a’bundh is too strong for some with only a drop of distilled water, maybe they should switch to dessert wines. They certainly won’t be sharing a sip out of my quaich. Slainte mhath!!

    [Reply]

    Matt goldstein Reply:

    If you can’t put it on the label on it, is it really scotch?

    [Reply]

  • AVB

    Much better now. One last item though is this:
    Single Malt should be served with only a couple drops of distilled water added. This serves to break the surface tension which opens up the flavor of the single malt. Adding more water or putting it on the rocks simply dilutes the taste and compromises the integrity of the single malt.

    While true for a number of malts it certainly isn’t true for all. Aberlour a’bundh at over 120 proof can certainly handle an ice cube, as can the Glenlivet Nadurra, Ardbeg Supernova for a few common ones.

    [Reply]

    Chris Reply:

    I certainly agree with the stronger and more flavourful malts being mixed to taste with water. Malts like Ardbeg and Laphroaig have such nice peaty flavour that I’ve stopped using ice for a long time now and instead mix with a bit of distilled water so that I can control the taste with more consistency. And I love my lead crystal scotch glasses!

    [Reply]

  • AVB

    I have to agree with Scotch Lover on all counts. As I was reading this I was adding up all the mis-information which he covered pretty well. One he did miss was that Scotch has to age for 3 years, not 8, to be called Scotch no matter what type it is – Single Malt, Blended or Vatted.

    I’d actually pull this article until a better one is written or redo it with the proper corrections.

    [Reply]

  • Scotch Lover

    “Master Distiller” is being confused for “Master Blender”, “Scotch Whisky” is being confused for BLENDED Scotch Whisky, as there are also VATTED Scotch Whiskys which fall into this catagory as do single malts. “a dram” is a term of measurement not a type of glass, that would be a glencairn glass (like the one I have sitting in front of me) or more traditionally Tulip or Thistle glass. Drink your whisky as you like, ask me what I’ll have with my whisky, and I’ll say… more whisky! Don’t mind yanks being unknowlegable about scotch but don’t mis-inform others I beg of you. Slainte! (said slange-aye) don’t say cheers to a Scotsman

    [Reply]

    chap71 Reply:

    It was clearly stated as “Blended Scotch Whisky” in the first paragraph but we changed all of them just for you. :)

    [Reply]

    Scotch Lover Reply:

    Ahhh Good, you can send me a check for all the correction work I did, oh wait, that’s right I did it for free didn’t I? Maybe a bit of research before you commit the story to print might do a bit a good eh? Good job of fixing it up though.
    A short mention of the scotch regions and their flavour qualities might do good as well, Speyside, Islay (eye-lay) Highlands so on and so forth.

    [Reply]

    chap71 Reply:

    You should read a little better before criticising no? After all, it did say “blended scotch whisky. at the very beginning.” :)

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