When Adjectives Attack

11 Jan

Alternate title #1: Blended vs. ‘Blended’
Alternate title #2: All Scotch Whisky Is ‘Blended’

Terminology in Scotch whisky can be confusing. Maybe I’m not helping, but I think the term “blended” is one of the most confusing. If you know, for sure, what it means…stop reading now! Don’t let me confuse you. 🙂 The term “Blended” has a specific legal meaning, outlined in the official laws that define very precisely what terms like “Single Malt” and “Blended Grain” mean. There are actually five such terms* that define the five types of Scotch whisky.

The more I have learned about whisky, the more I appreciate how hard the terminology can be to understand, perhaps partially because it’s so easy to conflate the generic/colloquial meaning of a familiar word with its meaning in a more specific/legal context. The word “Single” in “Single Malt” means it was produced at a SINGLE DISTILLERY. Period. That’s all it means. Same with the “Single” in “Single Grain.”

It’s so easy to read two words (either “Single Malt” or “Single Grain”) together and think that there is only one kind of malt, or grain, in the product with that label. While that might happen to be true, that’s not what the term means! Blended, in the strict sense, as used in “Blended Malt Whisky,” “Blended Grain Whisky,” and “Blended Whisky” means just one thing: The bottle contains the product of multiple distilleries. It does not mean that it is any more, or less, mixed or “blended” than other whisky, including Single Malt Whisky. In short, what I have learned is that — if you are (as I am being) a little sloppy about the meaning — virtually all Scotch whisky is “blended” (except for rare single-cask bottlings).

As I have come to understand, all single-malts are made from the combined contents of various casks distilled at a single distillery (hence the “single” in “single-malt”) to ensure that the customers experience the same consistent product from batch to batch and year to year, with only gradual changes. The olfactory and gustatory skills necessary to produce a consistent whisky are the same whether the blender is working to create a Blended Scotch Whisky or a Single-Malt Scotch Whisky. (Aside: By the way, if the mixing process involves casks of different ages, e.g., if a product contains mostly 10-year-old whisky, but has some 9-year-old and some 11-year-0ld, it has to be labeled as 9-year-old. The age of a finished product has to reflect the youngest component.)

I am being intentionally sloppy with my language to [try to] make a point: Even Single Malt Whisky involves mixing the contents from different casks to create a consistent product. So it’s not “blended” in that it involves whisky from multiple distilleries…it’s just blended as in mixed. The entire term “Blended Scotch Whisky” is a noun. There are no adjectives in there.

* The five types of Scotch Whisky are:

  1. Single Malt Whisky (i.e., Malt Whisky produced in a single distillery)
  2. Blended Malt Whisky (i.e., Whisky produced from Malt Whisky sourced from multiple distilleries)
  3. Single Grain Whisky (i.e., Grain Whisky produced in a single distillery)
  4. Blended Grain Whisky (i.e., Whisky produced from Grain Whisky sourced from multiple distilleries)
  5. Blended Whisky (i.e., Whisky that fits none of the categories above but whose Malt and/or Grain components come from multiple distilleries)

Posted by on 11-January-2011 in Whisky2.0


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3 responses to “When Adjectives Attack

  1. Erik Flannestad

    11-January-2011 at 14:15

    You’re missing one term, “vatted,” and ignoring the importance of another.

    Along with only being from one distillery, Single Malt Whiskies are only created from a single type of grain.

    A Whisky created by combining different Single Malt Whiskies from different distilleries is called a “vatted” whiskey.

    “Grain” Whiskey typically refers to Whisky created from grains other than Barley.

    Blended Whiskies are allowed to contain other whiskies than those created from Malted Barley. A Blended Whisky could contain distillate from Corn, Wheat, or Oats.

    • whisky2dot0

      11-January-2011 at 14:37

      I wanted to focus on one term: Blended.

      I also tried to stick to the terminology based on the current Scotch Whisky Law of 2009. Vatted is no longer an officially sanctioned term.

      And you are right about “grain” and that the “single” in single malt does technically refer to a single type of grain (i.e., malted barley) but the grain type is implicit in the word “malt” so the “single” in the term “single malt whisky” is really referring to the number of distilleries that were involved in the production: Just one.

      Thanks for the comment! If you are on Twitter, please follow @whisky2dot0 — I’ll follow you back.


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