The earliest record of Scotch whisky dates from 1494. From that time up until 1831, when the patent or continuous still was invented, all Scotch whisky was of the malt variety, made in small batches. Quality and consistency was variable. The arrival of Aeneas Coffey’s patent still changed this. His still could produce whisky at a higher alcohol degree, with a lighter and more consistent character. Today, grain whisky is made in continuous stills, and the seven working grain distilleries produce more whisky than the hundred or so single malt distilleries put together.
This is because the first ‘blenders’ discovered that by mixing malt and grain together they produced a product superior to any one individual malt whisky. And it was a repeatable art if they didn’t have to rely on any one single malt. Today’s blenders have the same challenge, to create consistent and high quality blends, over fifty of which sell in excess of a million bottles per year.
Blended Scotch whisky accounts for approximately 90% of the total Scotch whisky volume, a testament to the ongoing skill of the blenders, who typically use from 20 to 40 different single malts in their blends. It’s the grain whisky, however, which provides the structure and backbone of the blend. A standard blend will be made up of 70% grain and 30% malt.
Once the individual whiskies have been blended together they are often returned to cask for a further period of maturation. This process is called ‘marrying’, a chance for the malts and grains to complete the ageing process as a blended whisky.