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The categories of Scotch whisky

It may come as something of a surprise to learn that Scotch whisky can be divided into five distinct sub-categories. In truth, however, 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 and it is by mixing these in different ways that we can create up to five different drinks.

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 added. The spirit is distilled in column or continuous stills at a “single” location. Single grain examples include the David Beckham-fronted Haig Club is an example of one such whisky, produced at Cameronbridge distillery in Fife.

It is through varied combinations of these two distinct spirits that we can create a further three categories

Blended Malt is a combination of two, or more, single malts. Think Monkey Shoulder, Big Peat, Spice Tree.

Blended Grain, perhaps the rarest category, 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 at least partially justified, as it is a fine drink of unique character and provenance with a long and storied history but to discount the other categories would be folly.

Single grain may lack the character of malt but given time in a decent cask it can be an excellent drink in its own right. The same goes for blended grain. Blended malts, meanwhile, 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. Mellower and more approachable, not to mention, affordable, it too has its place in the cabinet of any true whisky lover.

Once again I hope you have found this article enlightening and please do drop me any suggestions you may have for topics you’d like to see covered in future.

Moran taing (many thanks),

Neill Murphy

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