HOT NEWS!

MNIW launched a new special edition bottling: “DRAGON”,  Discover more »

Whisky 101

Blended Whiskies can be better than Single Malts

blended whisky

March 9, 2023

Single malts and blended whiskies have more things in common than you can imagine

When it comes to whisky, there’s often a debate that’s as fiery as the liquid gold itself: are blended whiskies better than single malts? Many people’s answer to this question is simply one and only one: no way! But is this really the case? Is it true that a good master blender can’t create a high-quality whisky blend? Rather odd, isn’t it?

Just think of some of the most beloved whiskies available on the market today, such as Johnny Walker’s black label, or Monkey Shoulder. Are all those who buy these bottles fools? Of course not. The only fools here are those who decide to foreclose on experiences just because they are too occupied to stay within the realms of what is reputed to be best. 

But before we look at why blended whiskies are of high quality, let’s take a step back. First, we’ll understand what is a single malt and what is a blended. You may find out that these two types of whiskies have a lot more in common with each other than you originally thought.

What is a single malt?

Most people might assume that single malt means that whisky comes from a single barrel. However, single malt is actually referred to as a whisky produced from barley that comes from a single distillery. Most single malts on the market (aside from some limited edition Single-barrel expressions) are produced by “vatting” or “marrying” together different casks of whisky. What about the ageing on the label? you may ask. The number on the label certifies the minimum age of the youngest whisky that went into that vatting. 

Then how on earth, given that each barrel of whisky is unique, every time you buy a bottle of your favourite single malt it has the same taste and flavours (or almost, you may not just notice the slight differences)? Of course, it’s not just by a fortunate coincidence, but because there’s a skilled Master Blender behind that bottle. Indeed, the Master Blender tastes through the barrels that are ready for release and mix them according to a recipe to create a consistent taste and flavour. What a dream job, isn’t it?

That’s why you see dozens and dozens of bottles of your favourite single malt on the shelves.

So, we’ve established that single malts are usually produced by blending whiskies from different casks within a single distillery.

Then what is blended whisky?

You can have:

  • Blended malt scotch whisky: Blend of single malts from two or more distilleries.
  • Blended grain scotch whisky: A blend of single grains from two or more distilleries.
  • Blended scotch whisky: This is what most likely you’ll think about when you hear the word “blend”. A blended scotch is a blend of both malt whiskies and grain whiskies, sourced from several different distilleries. 

Well, actually barley is still a grain. Let’s explain that. 

Malt whisky is made exclusively from malted barley, prepared using a small batch pot-still method. On the other hand, grain whiskies are produced by a continuous column still. 

The origins of blended whiskies

In the early 1860s, Andrew Usher from Edinburgh pioneered the practice of blending in the whisky industry. This innovation paved the way for Scotch Whisky to gain popularity in England and eventually across the globe.

The reason for the widespread appeal of blended Scotch Whisky was due to the fact that Pot Still Malt Whisky, which was the predominant type of whisky before blending, had a strong flavour that was not ideal for everyday drinking, especially in a warm climate. After all, there is a reason why there are fewer people around drinking whisky in summer.

Grain Whisky, on the other hand, has a milder flavour. Hence, Single Malts and Grain Whiskies were mixed to create a new type of whisky widely accessible to people of different tastes.

But at this point, we need to clarify one thing. Mixing malts and grain whiskies are in no way a dilution. Indeed, the Master Blender that creates the recipe has to combine different individual whiskies to produce a blend that would bring out the best qualities of each of its ingredients. It’s more like devising an alchemical formula that favours the release of certain flavours and aromas. And believe us, you have to be really skilled to come up with the perfect balanced blend and repeat it again and again to make a consistent expression every time you bottle it up. 

So, are blends better than single malts?

Of course not. 

So is it true that single malts are better than blends?

No, again!

At the end of the day, it’s just a matter between you and your taste buds. Both whiskies – when of high quality – are the product of careful research and fine craftsmanship. So why should you deny yourself a whisky experience? Just because someone on the internet said that single malts are superior? 

Enjoy the whisky world and what it has to offer my friend! The only reason why you should say no to a dram is that you have to drive. Otherwise, here are some reasons why you might be curious to try more blended whiskies.

A complex recipe

As we already mentioned, blended whisky is made by skilfully combining different single malts and grain whiskies to make something complex. Now, let’s not stand here and say that single malts cannot be complex. Several variants at play can make a single malt unique and rich: how the malt was dried, the distillation procedure, the type of cask, ageing years, maturing environment, temperature, and much more. So much so that, as we have said, no two casks are exactly alike within the same distillery. However, there is no doubt that you will still find the main characteristics of the distillery in every single malt.

What if we mix them up? You’ll have an interesting and original profile! Indeed, blends allow for a wide range of experimentation as they are the products of whiskies from multiple distilleries. This gives the master blender the creative freedom to try out different blends and develop new delicious and unexpected flavour profiles. 

A Balanced Profile

But there is another factor to consider when it comes to blending. 

While single malts win everyone’s hearts with their portentous aromas and flavours, there is no doubt that they may inevitably have some minor flaws. Or rather, it would be more accurate to call them edgy notes that may annoy some people. But when it comes to blending, a Master Blender is capable of smoothing out those slightly too prominent corners to succeed in creating a whisky that is perfectly balanced in every aspect.

And it is exactly for this reason that blended whiskies tend to scare less the newcomers to the whisky world.

A good entry into the world of whisky

Most blended whiskies focus on a few flavours notes that combine well with each other. This means that they are generally quite smooth despite the many complex notes and full-flavour profiles. This is why this type of whisky may be perfect for anyone approaching this spirit for the first time. 

Age blended 

Lots of blended whiskies tend not to state their age. However, there are rules for those that decide to do so. The blend must take its age from the youngest whisky in a bottle. For example, if a blend brings together a 3-year-old whisky, a 10-year-old whisky, and a 15-year-old whisky, the blend is technically 3 years old. However, it’s not a matter of age, but of the flavour profile. It’s incredible the flavour profiles a blended whisky can have despite the age of its components. 

In the end, it’s all about the skill of the master blender. Eventually, after tasting several blends and single malts, you might even be able to trace the same hand of the master blender behind your favourite bottlings. And then you might want to taste them all!

Some high-quality blended whisky

Ok, we have seen the hows, the whys…now let’s see the whats.

The choice of blended whisky is vast. Not for nothing they make up 90 % of the whisky market! Here we recommend some of the most beloved ones and some of our favourites.

Remember. There are no rules in whisky (or at least, there are no rules for those who taste it). The only rule is to enjoy the experience!

The Most Beloved Blended Whiskies 

Monkey Shoulder

Monkey Shoulder

This blend is famous for being a sweeter, softer blend full of vanilla, nuts, and fruit. Monkey Shoulder gets its name from the physical condition frequently suffered by the ‘malt men’ after years of hard work in turning over germinating barley piles by hand. If you generally love Speyside malts this is a must-try, since it is a mix of this type of whiskies.

The three main single malts used in the recipes are Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie.  There’s no grain mixed in, so this is a great option if you want to adjust your palate to malt before proceeding.

One final tip: enjoy it on the rocks.

Compass Box

This label has been revolutionizing the blended whisky category. Compass Box is an excellent and accessible brand both for beginners and experts.

One of the must-try, especially if you are new to whisky, is Artist’s Blend. The expression is mostly malt, but with a bit of grain mixed in.

Another great whisky from Compass Box is The Spaniard Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. It is a mix of Single Malt and Single Grain whiskies of the highest quality. This luxurious blend of malt Scotch whisky features Spanish wine cask-aged whiskies, resulting in a bottle brimming with rich, profound flavours. On the palate, this whisky has a full, velvety texture with a combination of citrus peel and poached pears infused with red wine and spices. 

Finally, another great must-try is the Orchard House expression. This whisky is a lovely fruit-forward blend of malts with no grain whisky. It features malts from Linkwood, Clynelish and others, all aged in a variety of cask types.

Johnnie Walker

The only reason why you don’t know Johnny Walker is that you’ve been living under a rock. We even talked about this brand in an article a few weeks ago about the Diageo experience. Then why are we even mentioning it?

Because if you are a bit like us, when something is popular then you are also a bit wary of it.

There’s no doubt that Blue Label is delicious (as it is also quite expensive). However, there is also the classic Black Label to consider. If you want to enter the world of peated whisky, start from here. Indeed, this is a 12-year-old blend with a nice touch of smoke on the palate. What’s in the mix? Malts from Cardhu, Lagavulin, and Talisker (all owned by Diageo by the way), along with some grain whiskies.

Another great blend from Johnny Walker is the Green Label. This spirit brings together flavours elements from Skye, Islay and Speyside. The result is a harmonious balance of honey and rich fruitiness. In the mix, you will find the vanilla biscuits and grassiness of Linkwood and Cragganmore, combined with just a little smoke and spice from Talisker and Caol Ila. If you want to go on a trip to Scotland, just pour yourself a dram of this!

Chivas Regal

This is another scotch brand name you’ve certainly heard before. Chivas Regal has a long history of blending malt and grain whiskies that regularly won awards. The flavour profile of this blend generally includes honey, herbs, and fruit, with a creamy texture that makes this whisky easily sipped.

If you want to taste a blend of this label, we recommend Chivas Regal Mizunara. This expression came out after the growing trend of using Mizunara casks to finish whisky. This type of Japanese oak is quite difficult to work with, but if you are a skilful master blender, the result is a spirit with excellent notes of toast, coconut, and incense. 

Chivas Regal Mizunara

An incomplete list of MNIW’s favourite blended whiskies

We would like to point out that this list is not a ranking. There are many more blends we love, but for reasons of space (and to avoid a never-ending scrolling) we will limit ourselves to these labels…at the moment!

Ballantines 

These whiskies have a reputation for being smooth and easily drinkable. Most of Ballantine’s blends have a little bit of Miltonduff and Glenburgie. In its younger no-age-statement iterations, the blend boasts sweet vanilla and cocoa flavours. As it ages, it develops more complex layers of honey, toffee, and spice.

The core portfolio consists of Finest, Limited, 12, 17, 21, 30 and 40-year-olds, plus a lime-flavoured expression, Ballantine’s Brasil,  launched in 2013.

The 17-year-old expression from 1960 is certainly a must-drink, at least once! This whisky will take you on a journey through Scotland thanks to its blend of malt and grain whiskies from around the country. The nose is deep and balanced, with hints of vanilla, oak and a slight hint of smoke. The palate is full and complex, the sweetness of honey and vanilla blending beautifully with hints of oak and spicy liquorice. 

Another blend of this label that we cannot fail to mention is the 30-year-old, 1970. This rich and luxurious whisky is a mix of rare scotch whiskies aged 30 years old and over. It brings a complex array of aromas and flavours to your nose and palate, with honey, vanilla, gentle spices and rich oak being the stars of the show. 

John Campbell 1950

This vintage bottle produced by the famous John Campbell of London was exported to the Spanish market. If you can get your hand on it, you are in luck! It is a great opportunity to let your palate travel back in time and sample a scotch whisky that it’s hard to find on the contemporary market.

White Horse

A label that is always a guarantee! White Horse is a blended peaty scotch with a full flavour. The core is Lagavulin, with a mix of some forty malts and grain whiskies selected in the Highlands, Islay and Lowlands.

The White Horse has a rich, smoky taste that lingers on the palate. Its aroma is characterized by subtle hints of oak, toffee, and smoke, while its finish features notes of spices, oak, and vanilla.

This elegant blend will charm you in one sip!

In conclusion

We hope you enjoyed this extended journey into the world of whisky. What’s your favourite blended whisky? Share this article on your social media, tag MNIW and let us know!

Enjoyed the article?

Subscribe to our newsletter, and don’t miss out on any news about the Whisky World.

See also

Whisky news

Pernod Ricard acquired The Whisky Exchange

The Whisky Exchange, an institution of the whisky world, has now joined the Pernod Ricard family. What is going to change?
Interview

Women Representation in the Whisky Industry. An Interview with Kate Watt

Is whisky still considered as a man's drink? The role of women in the whisky industry and its evolution over the years.
Business

Everything you need to know to start investing in Whisky: Part 1

Giorgio D'Ambrosio practical guideline on how to start building up your whisky collection and which bottles to invest in.
Whisky 101

The Chemistry of Whisky: Barley

Barley is one of the fundamental ingredients for Scotch Whisky. But what is the transformation process and how does it take place?
Interview

How does Mark Watt enjoy his whisky?

An interview with Mark Watt, one of the most influential independent bottlers in the contemporary whisky scene
Whisky news

2021 Whisky Releases: News from the Whisky World

Rare expressions, unique productions and limited editions: all the whisky bottles released in 2021 that you must have in your collection.

It’s rude to ask,
but are you old enough in your country
for enter this site?

0
YOUR CART
  • No products in the cart.