Whisky terminology certainly causes a lot of confusion.
People get hung up on everything from regions and cask ages to colouring and chill-filtering. Even whether it’s spelt whisky or whiskey! But one of the most common questions – asked by beginners and connoisseurs alike – is, ‘What’s the difference between single malt and blended whiskies?’.
As a leading bottler and supplier, it’s fair to say, the water of life is our area of expertise. And here we attempt to resolve the long-standing conundrum that is single malts vs blends.
Spoiler alert – the real difference probably isn’t what you think it is.
What is single malt whisky?
Short answer – whisky that comes from just one distillery.
Contrary to common belief, single malt whiskies are not the product of a single barrel or single cask. Neither are they the product of a single batch, or one very old and wise man who lives in Scotland.
Single malts are simply whiskies produced at a single distillery.
Take, for example, one of our favourites – Tomintoul Aged 10 Years. This only contains whisky produced at Tomintoul Distillery, but that whisky is likely to have been taken from several different barrels.
This is a process known in the whisky world as ‘vatting’.
Many variables can influence the flavour and character of a barrel of whisky. So, to create a single malt that’s consistent in taste and quality, nearly all whisky distilleries now ‘vat’ their barrels or mix them together. This ensures each new release meets the brand’s unique flavour profile.
If a single malt is stated as being 10 years old – like Tomintoul – this is the youngest age that went into the vat. In truth, the majority of your dram could be much older. But the amount used from each barrel is irrelevant. As long as there’s even a trace of a 10-year-old batch, it becomes a 10-year-old whisky.
What is blended whisky?
Short answer – whisky that contains a mixture of spirits from two or more distilleries.
Blended whiskies do what they say on the tin.
Essentially, they are a ‘blend’ of different whiskies – not just taken from different barrels, but from multiple separate distilleries. These can be distilleries from distinct regions or countries, and the blend can include a mix of single malts and single grains (i.e. whiskies made with barley, plus other grains).
Creating a blended whisky is kind of an art form. Similar to the way a chef will take multiple high-quality ingredients and create an outstanding dish, a master blender will skilfully combine multiple whiskies – each delicious in their own right – to make a spirit that’s smooth and unique in flavour.
Do single malts and blends taste different?
Single malts and blends possess two very different flavour profiles.
As single malt whiskies are made from 100% barley, they’re typically more robust, full-bodied and complex than their blended counterpart – with a deeper flavour that lingers on the tongue. Each one also has a distinctive taste, which reflects the unique character of their single distillery.
By contrast, blended whiskies are usually a lot lighter and smoother – and their flavour is usually very subtle. As such, they’re much more approachable, and can often be a good choice for whisky beginners.
Blended whisky vs single malt – which is better?
Single malts are often perceived as being of higher quality than blended whiskies.
Many whisky lovers agree – it’s difficult for a blended spirit to match the depth and complexity of flavour that you get from one created at a single distillery. And admittedly, the whisky tasting sets in our store mostly contain single malts – but everyone’s preferences are different.
Only your tastebuds can tell you which is your favourite style, so the easiest way to find out is by trial and error. Where’s the harm in setting aside a couple of hours to try a few of each? Apart from feeling a little tipsy!
You may prefer a smooth blend that brings together a myriad of flavours. Or you could discover a one-of-a-kind single malt that’s impossible to beat (or find anywhere else!).
Sounds like the perfect plan to us.
If you’re looking for the perfect introduction to the world of single malts, we have just the thing. Our best-selling Single Malt Whisky Tasting Set.
This features five of the very best single malt whiskies currently available, including:
- Tomintoul Aged 10 Years
- Glencadam Aged 10 Years
- Arran Barrel Reserve
- The Ileach
- Penderyn Legend
You’ll receive a 30ml miniature of each, which is the ideal amount to taste and appreciate their unique flavours – comparing them with each other, as well as other blended varieties if you wish.
Each set comes with a series of tasting cards, which feature interesting facts and information about the whiskies, as well as the key flavours to look out for. Plus a luxury whisky tasting mat, perfect for setting down your spirits and making notes as you sip your way through some of Scotland’s finest.
For a more experienced drinker, looking to extend their single malt repertoire, we also have several other premium sets to choose from – including our brand new World Whisky Single Malt Set, Premium Scotch Whisky Set and Old and Rare Scotch Whisky Set.
So, why not order the one that most appeals to you, give our single malts a go and let us know what you think? You can easily tag us on social media using @WhiskyTastingCo.
If you’re still not 100% clear on the difference between single malt and blended whisky, or would like more advice on the sets for sale in our store, you’re also welcome to get in touch for a chat. Simply give us a call on 01743 247 220. We have excellent knowledge in this area and we’re always more than happy to help.