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.