There are a huge variety of whiskies on the market, and it can be difficult to know where to begin with different whisky products. Single malt, blended, Scotch, American and Irish whiskies all appear on our shelves, but one must delve deeper into the differences between these before making the choice on which to drink, or even which to invest in.
Single malt Scotch whisky is universally viewed as a luxury product due to the artisanal nature of the production process that results in lower volumes of spirit and higher prices. There are strict regulations around the distilling and ageing of Scotch. It is a legal requirement in Scotland that the distilling process for single malt uses only one grain — barley. This preserves the traditional, time-honoured methods of producing Scotland’s famous amber spirit.
In contrast to the exclusive use of barley for single malt production, blended whisky allows for much more flexibility. Different grains including wheat, corn and rye can be used in varying quantities to achieve different flavours. Blended whiskies can be produced at higher quantities on a more industrial scale, using cheaper grains and with less ageing. The resulting lower price means that blended whiskies make up 92% of world demand.
Blended whiskies also do not require the same amount of time to age as single malts, which again brings the price down for distillers. Even though single malts are generally considered far superior in taste, blending also gives whisky brands the opportunity for more consistency in the product they are distributing.
Individual casks of whisky have their own distinct flavour that is affected by the cask itself, as well as factors like the environment and climate. Distillers can make certain that the finished product that they bottle has a consistent flavour by following the basic recipe for their blend and making adjustments in the mix to ensure consistency in flavour. They then use blind tasters to ensure that the new batch is indistinguishable from previous blends.
Consistency can be an advantage point for blending whisky when you are mass-producing the spirit, but it does not compare to the individuality and craftsmanship that comes with single malt. Although the batch process of producing single malt whisky means that it cannot be produced in the large quantities that blended whiskies can, the slower process means that you are left with a product that is unique, special and hard to replicate. It is not only a pleasure to drink, but as an investment it improves with age and increases in value due to its rarity and luxury.
Whiskies are available from all over the world, with Bourbon, Rye and Irish whiskies, meaning there is a diverse market with flavours to suit all tastes. However, the growth in availability in other whisky spirits has not affected the popularity of Scotch in any way. According to Karen Betts, the Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, ‘More Scotch whisky is enjoyed across the world than American, Canadian and Irish whiskies combined.’
Scotch has an indisputable global appeal, particularly in the Asian market where 25 bottles of Scotch are exported to China every minute, and single malt Scotch whisky dominates the market in Taiwan. The strong growth in export numbers that Scotch has seen in recent years, along with its popularity in the auction market, is mainly down to the increasing global interest in premium products.
The strict rules surrounding Scotch production could perhaps be seen as restrictive, meaning that the production process hasn’t been open to innovation and creativity in the way that American whisky has been. However, there is a reason that Scotch regulations are so strict — because the payoff is so extraordinary. The process of distilling single malt Scotch whisky has been protected over time. With single malt Scotch you aren’t just purchasing a premium, high quality drink, you are investing in years of craftsmanship and a growing global industry that shows no sign of decline in future years.