Scotch Definitions

Single Malt. Single Grain. Blended Grain. Blended Malt. Blended Scotch. Single Cask.


Confused?  I don’t blame you.  The wonderful world of whiskies can get complicated and wrapping your arms around the potion in the bottle you are consuming can leave you wondering as to its composition based on what’s written on the label.  We will attempt to demystify some (probably not all) of these nuances for you in this article.  Let’s go…


Single Malt refers to whisky that is produced at a single distillery, made from water, yeast and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals (e.g. corn, wheat, rye), and by batch distillation in copper pot stills aged for at least 3 years in either American Oak or European oak cask and bottled at a minimum ABV of 40%.  The key takeaway here is single distillery and only malted barley. With that being said the single malt liquid in your drinking vessel most likely is a blend (what???) of various barrels selected by the “master blender” to maintain consistency year over year. Bringing it back…it’s all from one distillery making it a single malt.  Think Macallan 18.


Single Cask scotch whisky is what some may think of when they think about single malts.  There is no blending here.  The bottle contains the liquid from a single cask/barrel.  These bottles will commonly identify both the distillation date, bottling date and can contain the cask # and individual bottle number on the label. The beauty (and sometimes downside) of single cask whisky is each cask will have an individual flavor profile as to the wood in which it draws it’s flavors. Think Balvenie 15 Sherry Cask.


Single Grain can be distilled form a grain or mixture of grains (barley, rye, wheat, corn) at one distillery and typically aged for 3 years. Single grain whiskies does not conform to the definition of Single Malt. Once again the key here is “single” which refers to one distillery.  Typically a single grain whisky is distilled in a patent (column) or “Coffey” still instead of a pot still. Traditionally this category was not marketed but used mostly in blended whiskies (we’ll get to this soon).  However in recent years we are seeing some traction in this space with some distilleries bottling and marketing singe grain whiskies.  Think Haig Club Single Grain.


 Blended Grain is simply a blend of single grains (see above) from 2 or more distilleries.  Think Compass Box Hedonism


Blended Malt is simply a blend of Single Malts(see above) distilled at more than one distillery.  No grain whisky can be added. Blended Malts are sometimes referred to as ‘pure malts’ but this has generated some controversy as this term can be misleading.  Think Johnnie Walker Green Label 15.


Blended Scotch is a blend of one or more single malts with one or more single grains.  This category is the lifeblood of the scotch industry.  Think Johnnie Walker Black.


See diagram below (compliments of Scotch Whisky Association) which summarizes much of what was shared. With the advent of Japanese, Indian, Taiwanese, French (yes France) and others placing a stake in the whisky market, the above definitions hold true for liquid distilled in Scotland (Scotch)  but can be very similar for their whisky brethren’s.   

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