Whiskey isn’t just any alcoholic beverage. It’s a real way of life, bottled. Whiskey symbolizes success, confidence in yourself and your future. The drink of real men, it is strong and sizzling, but it also has a unique taste.
It’s hard to say where whiskey came from. First introduced in Scotland and Ireland, it soon made its way to America where, thanks to the use of corn mash, it developed new shades of taste and became a traditional American drink.
That’s why you can now find hundreds of varieties and brands of scotch on the shelves of liquor stores. And picking the right one can be tricky. Which is better to choose – single malt or blended? Or maybe even a grain one?
In this article, we’re going to get into the differences between single malt and blended whiskey, and at the same time determine which is better.
How whiskey is made in general
In principle, the difference between single malt and blended whiskey is extremely simple and obvious. The first is made from the spirits of the same distillery, obtained from the same grain harvest, and the second is blended from the spirits of different distilleries.
For someone new to the world of spirits, the above definition may be at least incomprehensible. What distilleries? What yields? What kind of alcohols? So let’s understand a little bit about how scotch and similar drinks are made in general.
The technology is actually both simple and complex:
First the malt is prepared. The raw material for it can be a variety of grains. In Scotland and Ireland, barley, wheat, and rye are mostly used. In some cases, even buckwheat. And in the U.S., corn. The seeds are gathered, husked and dried, then thrown into the malt house at a certain temperature and humidity level. After 7-10 days the “grains” germinate and become malt;
the malt is left to dry. The traditional recipe for scotch involves fuming the germinated grain with peat and beech smoke. The malt is thus “smoked” and also has a unique flavor. It can, however, also be dried without smoke, as it is done in Ireland and the U.S.;
The dried malt is ground into a flour and mixed with hot water, and then left to mature for 8-12 hours. The resulting liquid has a sweetish flavor. It’s called “wort” and is high in carbohydrates (both starch and simpler ones);
Yeast is added to the mash and left in warmth for a couple of days. During this time, fermentation takes place in the liquid. The liquid obtained after 2 days tastes similar to beer and has a strength of about 5%. The alcohol in the mash comes from the decomposition of carbohydrates (starch and glucose) by the yeast;
The fermented mash is distilled by evaporating water and alcohol from it. It is made twice. The thing is that after the first distillation you get quite a “dirty” and low-concentration liquid with alcohol content up to 30%. In Scotland, it is called “weak wine.”. After a second distillation, the finished whiskey spirit is obtained, which has a strength of about 70%;
Then the whiskey spirit is diluted with water. 70% is a very high alcoholic strength. So water is added until a “norm” is reached, which could be 32-50%. And then after that comes the fun part.
Of course, this scotch is already drinkable. But its taste will be infinitely far from perfect. That’s why it’s bottled in barrels.
The ideal solution is to age it in sherry casks. In the time spent in them, the scotch develops an extremely rich, full-bodied aroma, and a luxurious flavor. The color of the drink also changes slightly. But scotch aged in sherry casks is one of the best on the market.
Since there aren’t enough sherry casks for everyone, you can use regular oak ones. But here too there is a “trick”. To improve the flavor, oak barrels are treated with cheap sherry. Or they use the same tanks in which the bourbon was previously matured.
The longer the scotch is aged, the softer it becomes. But the standard for inexpensive varieties is three years in a barrel.
After three years in the cask, scotch can either be bottled immediately or sent to the distillery for blending, a blend of several whiskies from different distilleries.
And by the way, some recipes don’t involve germinating the malt. Scotch made from whole barley, wheat, or corn is called “grain whiskey.”. Its taste is slightly different from other types of this strong drink.
Single Malt Whisky
So, single malt scotch is made in one distillery, from one kind of malt. In most cases even single-harvest grains are used. This preserves the identity of both the distillery and the scotch.
When it comes to industrial scale, it turns out that single malt scotch is quite difficult to make. The taste of the drink also depends a lot on the characteristics of the grain. And these, in turn, vary slightly, but from harvest to harvest. So it can be difficult to maintain the same taste in all batches of single malt.
On the other hand, true connoisseurs of strong drinks, who are able to distinguish even the subtlest shades of taste, often choose single malt. And sometimes “tied” to a single distillery. In fact, renowned whisky makers never change the temperature conditions for fermentation, the length and method of drying, or the type of distillation and barrel ageing.
Single Malt Whisky can therefore develop its own distinctive flavor and aroma. And this is especially appreciated by spirits lovers.
The distinctive flavor and aroma that are preserved by each distillery through the use of the same manufacturing technology;
The highest quality.
- Expensive and rare.
The high quality of single malt is due to the fact that distilleries only pour the best varieties. The mediocre ones are sent for blending. Single malt is a distillery’s calling card and it is not profitable for a distillery to produce a poor quality whisky at the very least.
Blended whiskey is a blend of several different whiskies. Usually the drinks are blended from the same type of malt, but in some cases spirits from different types of grain may be added to the blend.
There are two reasons to make blended whiskey:
The blend may have an unusual flavor or aroma. This makes the drink softer and more enjoyable to drink;
Several mediocre whiskies are blended to produce a more or less fine whisky. Different varieties simply compensate for each other’s disadvantages.
Blending for flavor enhancement is quite rare and the final product is quite expensive. Usually for this purpose they take malt and grain whisky, then mix it in special containers and send it for 6-8 months in oak barrels to mature.
This blending also makes it possible to create a blend with consistent properties. Its flavor and aroma do not change from batch to batch and the weather conditions are unlikely to affect the quality of the finished whiskey.
Most blended whiskey, however, simply creates a cheap but not disgusting whiskey. Different spirits, including grain and malt, are blended to produce a drink with optimal flavor profiles. Such whiskey and matured for only a few weeks after blending.
Blended whiskey is one of the most common on the market. Approximately 80% of all whiskey produced in the world is blended. The low price, which can be around 1.5-2 thousand rubles for a bottle of 0.7 liter, makes it extremely attractive to the general consumer. Even big names like Jack Daniel’s, White Horse or Johnny Walker are blended whiskey.
That’s not to say blended whiskey is bad. It is rather a drink for mass consumption. In addition, it has a major plus – the invariability of the blend, thanks to which the taste of whiskey is preserved from batch to batch, from year to year.
So, let’s summarize.
Uniformity. The taste and aroma of the liquor will be the same regardless of the batch or year of harvest;
Low price and wide availability. Blended varieties of the drink can be found in all stores, liquor stores and so on. And the cost of them is not too “hit the pockets.
- Most of the time the quality is quite mediocre. The drink may not be mild enough or pleasant enough.
It is also worth noting that in recent years on the shelves began to appear very strange products – like “whiskey drink” or “drink produced by whiskey technology”. An example of such a product is Fox Dogs. These are budget versions for the mass market where whisky is just the root in the word ‘whisky’. There are whiskey spirits in their blend, of course, but there is no question of any aging or authenticity of the production process.
First of all it should be noted that Single Malt Scotch Whisky is an extremely niche product. It is unlikely to be of interest to the average person who is not “hunting” for varietal characteristics. In addition, the most attractive thing about single malt whiskey is that the taster can appreciate the craftsmanship of the whiskey at one sip.
That is, for the average person who is not going to sit on a balcony with a cigar and a glass, watching a Scottish sunset and enjoying the talent of the distillery, single malt is not a very interesting product and is definitely too expensive. And making cocktails on the basis of this drink is an unjustified waste of money at all.
Blended Whiskey is a product for the masses. But that does not make it better or worse. In what aspects, like consistency of flavor, it even surpasses single malt. It’s also perfect for cocktails because it has that distinctive whiskey flavor, but it’s not too expensive.
A little bit about the other varieties
It is also worth mentioning other varieties of whiskey:
Grain. The malt is not germinated;
Bourbon. Exclusively American. It is made only from corn, which gives it its characteristic yellowish color and very mild taste. It has a pleasantly sweetish aftertaste when aged in barrels fired inside. When choosing a bourbon, the color of the liquid plays a decisive role – ideally it is a rich golden color;
Tennessee. Also exclusively American variety. The malt for it is made from a mixture of grains, in which corn accounts for at least 51%. Distinguished by a special filtration system, which makes the drink especially mild;
Puree-Pot Mill. Irish recipe, which malt is made from both germinated and ungerminated grains. Other grains such as rye, wheat, and corn are also added. Then it undergoes a triple distillation, which ensures the lightness, pleasantness of the drink and the recognizable spicy-fruit bouquet.
Thus the world of whisky is not confined to single malt and blended whiskies. In many cases this strong alcoholic beverage is already at the stage of harvesting malt is a mixture of different grains.