Black Label blend vs. single Glenfiddich
Blended Scotch whisky or single malt – which is better?
BLENDED Scotch whisky accounts for roughly 90% of all Scotch sales, writes Rupert Patrick, CEO of WhiskyInvestDirect, with the twenty leading brands each selling over 10 million bottles a year.
But recently a lot of talk has been about the smaller but faster growing category of single malt. And many people are asking which is better. It can be a passionate debate.
Single malts are easier to nail down – they are the product of only one distillery, and although they can be made from a variety of different batches and indeed ages, the whisky is all made in the same, recognisable place with its unique set of stills, mash tuns and wash-backs.
Blends are more elusive. Many drinkers know that a blend is made up of malt and grain whisky but most don't know much more than that. And most wouldn't care anyway. Their loyalty to a brand grows from consistent quality and strong brand identity. They put their faith, whether they know it or not, in the master blender and the proof is in the drinking.
But is Johnnie Walker Black Label superior to Glenfiddich? You know from the label that the JW Black is a 12-year old whisky. So both the grain and malt whiskies have all been aged to a minimum of 12 years, and you think that must be a good thing. Indeed it is.
But the standard Glenfiddich is also a 12-year old whisky, matured in top-quality oak casks and sold at about the same price as JW Black. You may like the image of one better than the other, and your palate might prefer the smoother feel of the blend over the more individual character of the malt. But putting aside personal preference, is it fair to say which is better? I don't think so.
That said, some blends are definitely better than others. We recently did a staff tasting at WhiskyInvestDirect to show the benefit of longer maturation in cask – and it was no surprise that no-one preferred the supermarket own label blend (3 years old) to Chivas Regal (a blend of 12-year whiskies). And some malts are better than others, not always because distillery A is better than B, but often because of the quality of the casks used and the length of maturation.
If we are fair, however, and judge malt and blend at similar price points, I think it's a tough call to back one against the other. Sometimes it's a matter of mood or moment. A dreich winter's day and a peaty Islay malt, perfect. As is an autumn evening and a light-style blend with ice and water.
Is a full orchestra better than a solo? Is the genius of Lang Lang superior to the Berlin Philharmonic? A good one to debate late into the evening with your favourite dram!