Defining Scotch Whisky

15 Jun

I recently remembered that earlier this year some new definitions took effect as to the types of Scotch, but since I couldn’t remember them, I thought I’d re-read the regulations and summarize them here. It’s actually not that complicated — there are only five types of Scotch:

  1. Single Malt Scotch Whisky
    (i.e., Single Malt)
  2. Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
  3. Single Grain Scotch Whisky
    (i.e., Single Grain)
  4. Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
  5. Blended Scotch Whisky

There are also older terms that are now specifically banned, like “Pure Malt” but I don’t want to focus on the past at this time. The terms above break down into two categories:

  • Whisky made in Scotland from only barley, specifically malted barley
    • This combination of ingredients can only be used to make either Single Malt Scotch Whisky or Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Whisky made in Scotland from any cereal grain (including un-malted barley!) added to malted barley
    • This combination of ingredients results in whisky that must be labelled either Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Blended Grain Scotch Whisky or Blended Scotch Whisky (according to whether the product meets those definitions)

The vast majority of distilleries in Scotland make Single Malt. A relatively small number of distilleries produce grain whisky, which is rarely sold separately as Single Grain. More often than not, grain whisky is blended with malt whisky to make Blended Scotch Whisky.

The Bottom Line

That’s it, kiddies: There are just five types of Scotch. Generally, the ones in bold are the ones that you’ll encounter at your local liquor store.

Terminology: Single vs. Blended

  • “Single” means “product of a single distillery.”
  • “Blended” means “product of multiple distilleries.”

More Terminology: All Scotch Whisky is Malt Whisky

Thanks to Oliver Klimek, I have to note that all Scotch Whisky is malt whisky. The regulations define Scotch Whisky as follows:

3.—(1) In these Regulations “Scotch Whisky” means a whisky produced in Scotland—

(a) that has been distilled at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been—

(i) processed at that distillery into a mash;

(ii) converted at that distillery into a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and

(iii) fermented at that distillery only by the addition of yeast;

So to summarize, all “Scotch Whisky” is:

  • Produced in Scotland
  • Comprised of water and malted barley and yeast
  • And possibly other cereal grains…

After defining “Scotch Whisky,” the regulations go on to define the classifications above. Thus, even Single Grain Scotch Whisky and Blended Grain Scotch Whisky, being Scotch Whisky, must include malted barley. They don’t state a minimum requirement, but since those are both Scotch Whisky, they *must* contain malted barley.

You learn something new every day:Thanks, Oliver!!!


Posted by on 15-June-2010 in Whisky2.0


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9 responses to “Defining Scotch Whisky

  1. Oliver Klimek

    15-June-2010 at 21:59

    You are not quite correct with the three categories at the end. “any grain other than malted barley” is not possible for Scotch because according to the regulataions, it HAS to include malter barley, although no minimum is given. Theoratically a single grain of malted barley should qualify 😉

    Any Scotch that includes antything else besides malted barley has to be labeled as grain whisky.

    • whisky2dot0

      16-June-2010 at 09:18

      I believe you but I have to go back and carefully re-read the regulations and definitions again. That’s weird!

      • Oliver Klimek

        16-June-2010 at 09:27

        Section 3 (1) (a) – “… from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added)”

        So it’s either pure malted barley or malted barley mixed with other grains

      • whisky2dot0

        16-June-2010 at 09:35

        You don’t want to use the term “pure” or the Scotch police will come and get you. 😉

        I have reached the same conclusion. It’s very simple: The term “Scotch Whisky” is defined first, and definitely requires exactly three ingredients: 1) water, 2) malted barley, 3) yeast. Grain whisky is “Scotch Whisky” wherein other grains are added (at the mashing stage).

        I also noted that there is no requirement to distill grain whisky in Coffey (continuous) stills, though AFAIK, all of them do that.

    • whisky2dot0

      16-June-2010 at 09:51

      I have updated my post to make this abundantly clear. I don’t want something this relevant to be buried in the comments. Thanks again, Oliver!

    • whisky2dot0

      16-June-2010 at 10:18

      I edited the body of my original post and changed the three categories to two. It’s either Malt Whisky or it’s not. 🙂

  2. Ralph Erenzo

    16-June-2010 at 04:13

    There is substantial discussion about the definition of “whiskey” or “whisky” on the American Distilling Institute Forum as well as in a guest post by Chuck Cowdery on WHAT DOES JOHN KNOW blog.

    That dialog is focused on the fact the EU has defined whisky with a three (3) year minimum oak aging requirement. While it is certainly the right of a country or the EU to accept a definition for Scotch and Irish Whisky. But the problem is the definition specifically includes “American Bourbon” and “American Rye” whiskeys which are defined under US law and have no minimum aging period. The EU regulation excludes all American whiskeys from EU sale as “whiskey” or “whisky”, thereby prohibiting spirits which are legally labeled whiskey in the US from sale in the EU. The prohibition has repercussions for the growing Micro-Distillery movement in the US, since new distillers must wait at least three years to export their whiskey to the EU, which offers a ready and willing market for American spirits.

    The Scots and the Irish alone may say what their whisky is and how it is made. But only the US may define American whiskeys. The EU regulation is being challenged by American Trade Officials as an inappropriate restriction on free trade.

    • whisky2dot0

      16-June-2010 at 09:26

      Hey there, Ralph — nice to meet you! I’ve interacted a lot with Gable and I’m a big fan of your products.

      That is indeed a thorny issue that you raised. It’s one of the reasons I write about this stuff. I have written in the past about the definition of Bourbon (prompted by the fact that Tuthilltown makes Bourbon and you aren’t in Kentucky…a place from where many people assume that all Bourbon originates!).

      You have illustrated perfectly why these legal definitions are important — they govern trade. I’m sure this is more of an issue for you now that you are working with Wm. Grant & Sons, but you’re right…any US micro-distiller should have a ready market in Europe, since there are lots of enthusiastic whisk(e)y consumers over there, and their own nascent micro-distilling market which is generating more consumer interest.

      A related question: When you sell in Europe, do you have to use 700 ml bottles? I know your usual size is 375 ml, so maybe the bottle size difference isn’t an issue for you. That does impede the ability for small Scotch Single-Malt makers to sell here, since they have to run a separate bottling line for the US market.


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