Anyone that has bought superior quality whisky would have come across puzzling terms such as ‘single malt’ and ‘blended whisky.’ Usually, a single malt whisky is pricey than its blended counterpart. But why should you pay more for a flask of single malt whisky? Are there any health benefits or other advantages of single drinking malt over blended whisky? Or is it merely prestigious to buy, consume and serve single malt whisky?
At some point, some of these questions could have risen in your mind. Actually, single malt and blended whisky are both made of grain. However, there are significant differences between the two. Here we explain the difference between single malt and blended whisky.
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Single Malt v/s Blended Whisky
There are significant differences between a Single Malt Whisky and Blended Whisky. Here we look at some of the major factors that distinguish the two.
The main ingredient that goes into distilling whisky is grain. Here comes the difference between Single Malt and Blended Whisky.
- Single Malt Whisky is invariably made of barley. Generally, expensive Single Malt Whisky is made from finest quality barley.
- Blended Whisky contains alcohol distilled from various grains. It can contain spirits made from barley, wheat, rice, millet and maize, among other grains.
Another difference between Single Malt Whisky and Blended Whisky is the distillery.
- Single Malt Whisky contains a blend of spirits made in the same distillery. Contrary to popular belief, Single Malt Whisky is not from a specific batch of grains. It is also a blend of whiskies distilled from barley but blended in Oak barrels.
- Blended Whisky is made by marrying different types of grain whiskies in Oak Casks. Usually, these whiskies would come from different distilleries in a specific region or country. Hence, a blended whisky will consist of spirits made at different locations with various grains.
Pre Distillation Processes
Processes that go into making whiskies also decide whether it is Single Malt Whisky or Blended Whisky. Here are some of the main processes.
- Malting: This is a very important process for making Single Malt Whisky. Barley is soaked in water and left to germinate for two days or more, depending on the distiller.
For blended whiskies, it is not necessary to soak grains for at least two days. The process can be cut short or even made longer, if necessary.
- Drying: Barley used in Single Malt Whisky is dried after the malting process. This means it is exposed to smoke from burning peat or other natural material. This stops the germination process.
Blended Whisky distiller also stops germination of grains like wheat by exposing it to smoke from peat or other natural material.
- Mash: Dried barley is mashed to make a mixture called grist by mixing warm water. The process helps convert starches from grains into sugar that will create the alcohol.
Single Malt Whisky mash will consist of barley that was malted and dried. Blended Whisky mash can consist of barley, wheat, rice and other grains that were malted and dried.
Mash for Single Malt Whisky and Blended Whisky have to be distilled to make the final product. Here is where major differences in the processes emerge.
- Single Malt Whisky is distilled in copper stills. Alcohol vapors from the mash rise to the top of the still and flow to the condenser to become liquid again. The condensed alcohol is divided into three ‘cuts’ and distilled again. The second ‘cut’ is said to give the best Single Malt Whisky since it contains the finest Usually, Single Malt Whisky alcohol is distilled twice to get the finest quality spirits.
- Blended Whisky mash is distilled in column stills. One of these columns, called Analyzer, blasts the mash with steam and causes alcohol to evaporate by heat. Alcohol vapors thus formed are condensed in the second column, the Rectifier, until it reaches the maximum alcohol strength. The alcohol is further processed using the Fractionalization Process of dividing it into fractions till it attains the desired quality and strength.
Another significant difference between Single Malt Whisky and Blended Whisky is the maturation process.
- Single Malt Whisky is made from a single batch of grains. It will be blended with various other single malts made by the same distillery and left to mature on Oak casks. In some cases, distillers will use casks previously used for maturing wines. This imparts a better flavor and taste to the Single Malt Whisky. Usually, different single malts will be left to mature for a minimum of three years.
- Blended Whisky depends upon skills of the brewmaster. A brewmaster decides which whiskies go into the maturation casks and their proportion. To maintain consistency of taste and flavor, brewmasters will use the same Oak casks used to make their blended whiskies. Usually, whiskies of different grains from various distilleries will go into the Oak cask. Hence the term ‘Blended Whisky ’. It will be left to mature for at least eight years.
Taste & Flavor
The reason why Single Malt Whiskies are pricey? Due to the taste of course. No two brands of Single Malt whisky will have the same taste. This is because they are made with spirits made in the same distillery, albeit of different ages. This makes it different for one distiller to copy the flavor and taste of another brand.
Blended Whiskies are made by marrying different malts from different grains in various proportions. Hence, they can taste and smell the same as other brands. Giving the unique flavor and taste depends on skills of the brew master. Since all brew masters have their own secret formulas for blending, two different brands can taste similar if the same malts have gone into their making.
Production & Pricing
Single Malt Whiskies cannot be bulk produced compared over Blended Whiskies. This is because of availability of adequate malts from the same distillery for blending with a particular batch. Hence, they are expensive.
Blended Whiskies can be mass produced anywhere in the world. Hence, they are a bit economical compared over Single Malts.
Alcohol strength of both, Single Malt Whisky and Blended Whisky is usually maintained at 40 per cent Alcohol by Volume (ABV). Alcohol is generally 75 degrees Proof spirit for Scotch whiskies. Usually, a Single Malt Whisky will have its own fans. They love the taste and flavor of a particular brand and refuse to consume other whiskies. Blended Whiskies are enjoyed by people that have no specific inclinations towards a single taste or flavor. Both Single Malt Whisky and Blended Whisky have their own faithful aficionados.