If there is one thing we all know, it’s that whiskey is delicious. Still, there’s one other thing we all know about whiskey: it can be confusing for newcomers and experts alike.
There’s a lot of terminology in the whiskey world — everything from the malt to the mash bill, the angel's share, and small-batch — it can be a lot to follow. One of the terms that get thrown around a lot is blended whiskey.
What is blended whiskey? Many people have never even heard of it, let alone know what it is. Even the most experienced whiskey-drinker may not be able to answer that question off the top of their head.
That’s why we’re here to help you out and give you a better understanding of what a blended whiskey is and how it compares to the other whiskies you have tried.
What Are the Different Types of Whiskey?
Whiskey is a type of alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain.
There are many different types of whiskey, plus a plethora of sub-types to explore. For Scotch whiskey, as an example, these subtypes include single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain, and blended whiskey:
Single malt whiskey is made at one distillery from 100% malted barley and is distilled in pot stills.
Single grain whiskey is made at one distillery from various grains such as wheat, corn, or rye and is distilled in column stills.
- Blended malt whiskey is made by blending different single malt whiskies, which can be from the same or different distilleries.
Blended grain whiskey is made by blending different single grain whiskies, which can be from different or the same distillery.
- Blended whiskey is made by mixing both single malt and single grain whiskies.
All types of whiskey are aged in barrels for a specific amount of time. This amount changes based on the type of whiskey and the distiller.
The length of time that the whiskey is aged will impact the flavor profile, producing different notes and aromas. Bourbon whiskey, for example, must be aged for a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels, while Scotch whisky must be aged for a minimum of three years in used oak barrels.
There are dozens of other ways to break down a type of whiskey into its subtypes, but when dealing with Scotch whiskey, this is the preferred method.
What Is Blended Whiskey?
Blended whiskey is a combination of two or more different types of whiskeys. The whiskeys used can be from the same distillery or different distilleries, and they can be made from any grain — but usually corn, rye, wheat, or barley.
These different whiskeys are mixed together in various proportions to create a unique flavor profile that is typically lighter and smoother than other types of whiskey. Because blended whiskey is a mixture of several drinks, there are endless possibilities for variety and flavor.
Why Blend Whiskey?
Let’s say you have the option to go for a single malt or single grain whiskey that you know is one recipe of grains or malts in the bottle. If so, why would you bother with blended whiskey instead?
As it turns out, there are a few reasons, but it starts with accepting the fact that single malt or single grain whiskies are not naturally better than blended whiskies.
This is because phenomenal whiskey is about the flavors and aromas that a distiller can create during fermentation and distillation. That’s the case for single grain, single malt, and blended whiskies alike. Combining the flavors of several different whiskies — even whiskies made in different distilleries — can even give you more flavor in one bottle.
Another reason you may want to reach towards a blended whiskey is that they are typically cheaper than single malt or grain whiskey. This gives whiskey drinkers a more affordable option in the world of Scotch, where single malts and blends are most common.
A Brief History of Blended Whiskey
Blended whiskey has a long and storied history, dating back to the 19th century.
Once upon a time, blended whiskey glass was expensive. So, when your whiskey bottle ran dry, you simply took it to your grocer, who would fill it directly from a cask.
When these casks began to run low, many grocers started putting in whatever whiskey they could get to keep the supply going — inadvertently creating blended whiskey.
The first intentional blended whiskey was created by a Scottish doctor named Johnnie Walker, who blended together different single malt Scotch whiskies to create a smoother, more consistent product.
The technique proved popular, and soon other distillers began creating their own blends. To this day, Johnnie Walker's Red Label is the most popular blended whiskey sold in the world.
In the early 20th century, blended whiskey became the preferred choice of American drinkers, thanks to its mellower flavor and lower price point. Today, blended whiskey is the most popular type of whiskey in the world, enjoyed by millions of people every day.
Thanks to its rich history and unique flavor profile, blended whiskey is sure to remain a favorite for years to come.
Why Is American Whiskey Not Labeled as Blended or Single Malt?
In most cases, the only whiskey you’ll see labeled “blended” or “single malt” is Scotch. Why?
This is because, in American regulation, the term “single malt” is unregulated. This means distillers can use it without verifying anything. For Scotch whiskey, which is only made using malted barley, single malt means more. However, American blends typically use multiple cereal grains, like corn, wheat, rye, and barley, in the mash bill.
Is Single Malt or Grain Whiskey From One Barrel?
While it might surprise you, single malt or grain whiskey isn’t from one barrel.
The word "single" in this context refers to the fact that the whiskey is made from a single type of grain. For a whiskey to be considered a single malt, all of the grains used in fermentation must be malted barley.
For a single grain whiskey, the only requirement is for the whiskey to be made at one distillery using other grains in addition to malted barley in the mash bill for fermentation.
Most whiskey, both here in the United States and the rest of the world, is made with a blend of grains from countless different barrels. So, why do distillers mix the grains like this?
The most important reason is simple: consistency.
How Does Mixing Barrels Give Whiskey Consistency?
When you drink whiskey, the flavor that you are getting is not primarily from the grains that were used to distill the liquid, but rather from the barrel that your whiskey was aged in. Whiskey would be almost entirely clear if you were to drink it without aging it, and it would be hard to tell it apart from vodka or another neutral-colored spirit.
Something special happens when the whiskey is placed in a wooden barrel for years. As the temperature and humidity in the aging room change with the seasons, the wood expands and contracts.
This pulls whiskey into the wood as it expands and pushes it back out when it contracts. While pushing out the whiskey, the wood leaves behind elements that give you the flavors we know and love.
This is why there are so many rules and regulations around the globe dictating how long whiskey should age. As the whiskey ages, each barrel becomes slightly different. This means that two barrels of whiskey made from the same batch of distillate and stored next to each other during years of aging may end up tasting completely different.
Blending different barrels of whiskey together helps minimize these flavor differences between barrels and bottles. That way, when you buy a certain whiskey, you know what to expect.
Single barrel whiskey is any whiskey that only has the liquid of one barrel in the bottle. These bottles tend to be unique, and they can be more expensive. However, there is always a risk that that one barrel isn't going to be as delicious as the next.
How Expensive Is Blended Whiskey?
As we mentioned earlier, the biggest reason blended whiskey has become so popular is that it is more affordable than single malt whiskey.
You can get a high-quality bottle of blended whiskey in the $50-60 range. On the other hand, most single malts will cost you at least twice that number and can total well into the tens of thousands for the rarest bottles.
However, blended whiskey can get just as expensive. There have been blended whiskies that have sold for well over 100,000!
Blended Whiskey: Takeaways
Whiskey is a delicious alcoholic beverage that can be enjoyed in many different ways. Blended whiskey is any whiskey that is made by combining multiple barrels together to create a more consistent flavor.
This process is different from distilling single malt or grain whiskies, which have to be produced by a single distiller.
Although blended whiskey is typically less expensive than single malt whiskey, it can still be pricey in some cases.
When enjoying whiskey, it is essential to be aware of the different types in order to choose the best one for your tastes and budget.
If you want some fantastic American whiskey to add to your collection, consider any Oak & Eden offerings. Our Finished Whiskeys series features some classic American styles, including bourbon, rye, and even a four-grain that is to die for.
In our Infused Whiskeys series, you will find more adventurous whiskies with added flavor elements like rum, wine, and coffee. Last but not least, in our Collaborations series, you’ll find our bottle collaborations with remarkable ramblers, showcasing the uniqueness of the American spirit.
Whatever you like to drink, we have a whiskey that you’ll love.
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