Whisky 101: Part 2. The categories of scotch whisky...
It may come as something of a surprise to those new to whisky that the drink known as scotch can actually be divided into five distinct sub-categories.
In truth, the picture is perhaps a little less complicated than it first appears. There are in effect, two different spirits which can legally be called scotch whisky and it is by mixing these in different ways that we create such variety.
First there is Single Malt. This is spirit produced from 100% malted barley and distilled in traditional copper Pot Stills at a "single" location. Think Glenfiddich, Macallan, Highland Park, Lagavulin, Auchentoshan etc
Second comes Single Grain. This is a spirit produced from other, historically cheaper grains like wheat and maize, though often with a small portion of malted barley in the recipe to help in the fermentation process. The spirit is distilled in column or continuous stills at a "single" location. Single grain bottlings are rare though the David Beckham-fronted Haig Club is an example of one such whisky, produced at Cameronbridge distillery in Fife. Independent bottlers occasionally release some small batches of single grain whisky as well, look for names like Girvan, Strathclyde and Invergordon.
We can then create three more variations through different combinations of the two spirits above...
Blended Malt is a combination of two, or more, single malts. Think Monkey Shoulder, Big Peat, Spice Tree.
Blended Grain, perhaps the rarest category of them all, is a blend of two, or more, single grains. The only widely available example of this being Hedonism, from Compass Box.
Last but certainly not least, comes Blended Scotch which accounts for somewhere in the region of 90% of global whisky sales. This is created by combining single malt, from one or more distilleries with single grain, from one or more distilleries. Look to Johnnie Walker, The Famous Grouse and Chivas Regal for examples.
Despite blended scotch accounting for the bulk of whisky sales you will find that it is single malt that commands the greatest affection among connoisseurs. This is somewhat justified as it is a fine drink of unique character and provenance with a long and often storied history. To discount the other categories however, would be total folly.
Single grain may lack the character of malt but given enough time in a decent cask it can be an excellent drink in its own right. The same goes for blended grain, on the odd occasion you actually stumble across one. Blended malts can offer exceptional value for money, being made entirely of malt whisky yet free of the burden that is distillery branding and blended scotch, beloved by millions is not to be sneered at either. Mellower and more approachable, not to mention, affordable, it too has its place in the cabinet of any true whisky afficianado.
So there you have it, The Quaich Podcast rundown of the five categories of Scotch whisky. Once again I hope you have found this article enlightening and please do drop us any suggestions you may have for topics you'd like to see covered in future.