Types of Scotch whisky (malt, blend, grain..)
There are two origin types of Scotch and three derivative types.
- Single malt whisky is made in a traditional batch process using a copper pot still at a single distillery. Single malt is the premium, traditional style of whisky, but the artisanal manner of its production is not easily scaled. When bottled as Single Malt it accounts for 8% by weight and 18% by value of Scotch whisky production. But much of it is not bottled as single malt.
- Single grain whisky is made continuously via a modern column still, on industrial scale. The output is purer alcohol, but with much less flavour and character than a Single malt. The most important fact about whisky is that the fate of very nearly all single grain whisky is to be blended with one or more single malts to produce a much better tasting derivative type called blended Scotch whisky. Single grain accounts for 60-85% of the volume of blended whisky, which accounts for 92% of Scotch sales by weight, and 82% by value.
- By far the most important derivative product is blended Scotch whisky, a mixture of one or more single grain whiskies (for volume) and one or more single malts (for taste). This dominates the major brand sales figures.
- Blended malt is a mixture of two or more single malts (i.e. from two or more distilleries). It must not contain any single grain whisky and is numerically insignificant.
- Blended grain whisky is a mixture of single grain whiskies and is numerically insignificant.
A well branded blended Scotch will sell a great many more bottles than a single malt, because its production is designed for industrial scale to meet its demand, and because blending allows the producer to take a flexible approach to ingredients, provided that a reasonably consistent end product is achieved.
Blends aim to get made according to the same recipe year by year. The blender’s skill, however, is to continue to make a consistent product when certain malts are in short supply, or possibly not available at all. Blended brands are often made by mixing whatever is available on the market. All that matters with a blended Scotch is the final product, not how you get there.