One of the most common misconceptions in the spirits world is that ‘single malt scotch’ is of a higher quality than ‘blended scotch.’ This is completely unfounded and untrue. The designations single malt and blended are simply different ways of expressing the same product.
Blended Scotch was first made around 1860 after the introduction of column stills in 1830 led to the creation of un-malted grain whisky (otherwise known as ‘grain’). The smooth and mild mannered aspects of the grain helped to tone down the the more assertive characteristics of the malt whisky. The resulting blended whisky proved to be subdued and much more appealing to foreign consumers, particularly the English, who took to Scotch during the 1870s after phylloxera affected the supply of Cognac and Port–two mainstays of British culture.
In fact, if it wasn’t for blended whisky there would be far fewer operational distilleries in Scotland. Blended Scotch utilizes a mixture of numerous different malt whiskies in combination with grain in order to create the blender’s desired flavor profile. While the individual percentages of each whisky may be small, they all impart their own little inflection on the blend. This means that a master blender will need to purchase or produce a large quantity of single malts in order to maintain the consistency of their blend. A distillery’s single malt may get all of the glory, but ultimately blends pay the bills.
Just remember this the next time you say that ‘blended scotch’ is inferior to ‘single malt’ because in reality it is just a different expression of the same product, and if it wasn’t for blended whiskies, like Dewars and Johnnie Walker, numerous single malts would not be in production today. Furthermore, your favorite distillery might not even exist if blended scotch whisky never came along.