Your friends are coming over and you want to serve them Scotch whiskey. However, you have no idea which one should you buy: a blend or a single malt? How can you tell the difference between the two? Why even bother understanding their characteristics when you can just grab one from the store shelf and serve it to your friends?
Some say Scotch whiskies are complicated – just like women. You do not just drink; you give it the attention that it requires – from the nose to the palate and until the finish. More important, you have to know when to drink a blend and a single malt. Certainly, each type calls for a suitable occasion.
What is a Single Malt?
A single malt Scotch whiskey is the creation of a single distillery – not a single barrel or single batch. For instance, Glen Grant 10 Year Old may contain whiskies that came from several barrels but these are whiskies produced at Glen Grant’s distillery only. Clearly, it is not the same as a blended whiskey that is the product of two or more distilleries.
A blended Scotch whiskey, such as the Chivas Regal 12 Year Old and the Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old, is a mixture of up to 40 different grain whiskies from two or more distilleries with the single malt as its base. The blending process produces a remarkably pleasing taste and is done by Master Blenders. It’s a master craft that requires years of experience. Chivas’ Master Blender Colin Scott revealed that the blend may contain a combination of 50 whiskies – or even more. He shared that in 1996, they produced a century of malts when they put together a hundred different malt whiskies.
According to Franz Scheurer, Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine Spirits Editor, Master Blenders do “one hell of a difficult job”. Hard work is necessary to create a consistent taste of whiskey year in and year out.
Blended vs. Single Malt: Which Scotch is More Appealing?
Which appeals more to whiskey drinkers? Scheurer, in an interview with Stuff, said it depends on the drinker. A person who prefers smoothness from the grain will opt for a blended whiskey. An individual who favors challenge, wanting “their palette tickled by different flavors and textures”, will pick otherwise. To explain it simply, single malts are ideal for the younger generations while blended whiskies are best for “conformists and older”.
In another interview by Stuff, Andrew Derbidge, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society-Australia President, looks at a blended scotch as “a bit like a warm-up for the main act”.
How Do They Differ in Taste?
The difference lies in several important factors. One of them is the location where the whiskey was created. Various Scotch-producing regions create different profiles of flavor. The process of aging whiskies is also another element: How long was the spirit aged and in what barrels? Master Blenders also consider the brand – How one should taste to create distinction.
In an interview with Complex, Gabe Cardarella, scotch connoisseur and brand ambassador of Dewar’s, shared that a single malt holds “a fruity softness with a bit more of a dry finish”. The blended scotch, on the other hand, gives “a more lingering finish”. So, to know the difference between a single malt and a blended whiskey is to try them.
Are you still confused? But here’s what: Single malt comes from one distillery; a blended whiskey is a combination of whiskies from two or more distilleries. That’s the main difference. But to be certain of the distinction is to try drinking them.