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Blended Whiskey: An Approachable Whiskey For All Palates

If you’re looking for a smooth but memorable sipping option, blended whiskey is a popular choice. Blends are generally less harsh and softer than other whiskeys, so they’re great for new whiskey drinkers. The best blends are full of unique complexity and character, but each distillery and blend has its own signature style. Let’s take a look at how blended whiskeys came to be, what types of blends are available, and even a few curated selections we’ve featured in our Clubs.

What is a blended whiskey?

Blended whiskey is a type of whiskey made by combining whiskies from different malt and grain distilleries. A blended Scotch is a blended whisky that’s a combination of a barrel-aged malt whisky (all barley) and some other grain whisky (barley with other grains). American whiskey is blended with at least 20% whiskey, but the rest can be made up of colorings, flavorings, and neutral grain spirits. Higher quality brands don’t add neutral spirits or colorings, meaning their blends are made up of 100% whiskey. These bottles tend to be labeled with “a blend of bourbons, Scotch, or whiskey” on the bottle, rather than stating “blended.”

Other Whiskey Blends

There are three types of blended whiskeys, each with its specific criteria. You’ll see some of these phrases on bottle labels, so it’s good to know what kind of blend you’re sipping.

Blended malt scotch whisky: This is a blend of single malts(Link to single malt post) from two or more distilleries that create new products with specific characteristics. Only malt whiskies can go into this blend; no grain whiskies are used. You’ll notice the “age” of the whiskey on the label, and this number refers to the youngest malt in the blend. For example, a whiskey can contain a 10, 12, and 14-year malt, but it will list the product as being aged for 10 years.

Blended grain Scotch whisky: A bottle with this label means it’s a blend of single grains from two or more distilleries- no malt whiskies are included. Blended grain whiskies tend to be lighter and milder than blended malts (above) and blended scotch whiskies, which we’ll touch on next.

Blended scotch whisky: Blended scotches make up about 90% of Scotch sales. A blended Scotch label means that it’s a mix of both malt whiskies and grain whiskies from several different distilleries, blended to create a more consistent character than single malts, which can vary between bottles.

The history of blended whiskey

In Scotland, the original distillers were monks and later farmers who used barley malt in pot stills in the 1700s and 1800s. Distillation was irregular and done in small portions, and it was sold to wine merchants and grocers who retailed it by the cask because the idea of mass-producing glass whiskey bottles wasn’t developed yet. In trying to keep up with demand, shop keepers began making their own blends, and thus creating “brands.”

In 1831, Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey Still, a column still design, allowing for a continuous distillation process. This became an alternative to the pot still, capable of continuous distillation by reheating the liquid, rather than requiring distillation in batches. This still can also produce higher ABV spirits than pot stills. The Coffey still opened the possibility of producing grain whisky, which would later be used to create blended Scotch whisky.

Blending whisky began in Scotland in the early 1860s by Andrew Usher. At the time, whiskies were very raw and robust in flavor, but he found that by blending the relatively new grain whiskies, he could create a more palatable whisky that was lighter and sweeter in character. This meant whisky could appeal to more people, making it a more popular spirit.

When Prohibition was passed in America in 1920, it became illegal to buy or sell alcohol. As a result, bootlegged whiskies from both Scotland and Ireland became pretty popular, making it quite the business for anyone brave enough to smuggle it across the ocean! Prohibition thus created a booming market for Scottish and Irish distilleries when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. From the 30’s to the ’60s, blended Scotch whiskies became the favorite drink in Hollywood and pop culture- so much that you may even find references in music and films from the time. Today, blended whiskies are still popular for their taste, availability, and (often) slightly lower price tag.

How does a Blended Whiskey Taste?

Flavors vary, just like in any other whiskey category. Because the environment impacts whiskey’s characteristics, no two individual malts will ever be the same. By blending several together, a distillery can keep a brand’s flavors consistent. Master blenders start with their general recipe, but it’s the precisely-skilled tasters who help achieve a flavor closest to what each product is known for. That being said, blended whiskeys taste sweet with flavors of vanilla, cherry, candied fruit, or chocolate. They can also taste smokey or ashy, with hints of leather and dried fruits. They’re generally more mild and approachable than single malts.

Whiskeys Featured by Taster’s Club

Our Scotch Club members receive some of the highest-rated blended whiskeys from around the world. Check out some of our recent features.

  • Compass Box’s The Spaniard Blended Malt Scotch Whisky blends Single Malt and Single Grain whiskies of the highest quality to create textures, flavors, and experiences that no solitary whisky can attain. They source the highest quality of wood from the world’s leading cooperage partners in the US, France, and Spain. By experimenting with bespoke toast levels and innovative cask design, they’ve been able to develop flavor profiles never before seen in the world of Scotch. It’s a sumptuous malt Scotch whisky blend showcasing whiskies aged in Spanish wine casks. This bottle offers rich, deep flavors. It’s full, soft, and luxurious on the palate, with flavors of citrus peel and pears poached in red wine and spices. It’s a whisky ideal for late evening sipping.
  • The Big Peat Prohibition 2020 Limited Edition is an Islay Blended Malt from “the island of Smoke and Peat.” There were only 2000 bottles produced for limited-edition SKU, and it was produced for the US to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the revoke of Prohibition in the United States. Big Peat Prohibition is a cask-strength version of the lovely core Big Peat and comes bottled at an ABV of 46%. A few drops of water make the aroma more robust and the peat more smoke-forward. This also thins out the palate making it slightly sweeter like vanilla fudge. Overall, it’s a dark, smokey, ashy dram, perfect for bundling up and enjoying with your fuzzy slippers and a nice fire. Big Peat captures the archetypal taste of Islay in one truly remarkable bottle.
  • Stratheden Vintage Selection, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky is a blend of single malts ranging from 20 to 35 years. This golden Vintage Stratheden has a dense, leathery nose to start, followed by dry fruit-cake, Maraschino cherries, and tinned pears. After a while, you’ll detect a hint of pastry, hard toffee, and sweet tobacco. It’s surprisingly sweet and peppery to taste, with a trace of salt and a warming, medium-length finish. A drop of water introduces pastry made with lard and adds a brown-paper note to faint pears. Complex, fruity, and spicy, this Scotch Whisky is a delicious treat.
Have you tried any blended whiskies that you really loved? We especially want to hear from our Scotch Club members!
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