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Explainer: The Scotch whisky categories

Explainer: The Scotch whisky categories

The different Scotch whisky categories can seem endless. Ever been bamboozled by malts, blends, blended malts and grain whiskies? You are not alone. We’ve put together a quick guide to help you decipher the differences and navigate your way through the world of Scotch like a pro.

In the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, there are five defined categories of Scotch whisky:

  1. Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  2. Single Grain Scotch Whisky
  3. Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
  4. Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
  5. Blended Scotch Whisky

So, what makes each of these categories different?

1. Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Ingredients: malted barley, water and yeast.

Product of only one malt distillery using pot still distillation.

This means that the whisky has only been produced at one distillery and has been distilled using the traditional copper pot distillation method.

2. Single Grain Scotch Whisky

Ingredients: malted and unmalted barley, cereals (maize, wheat), water and yeast.

Product of only one grain distillery using either the traditional pot still distillation method or more commonly continuous distillation.

This means this whisky has only been produced at one grain distillery using either the traditional copper pot distillation method or more commonly a Coffey still (continuous distillation).

Fun fact: There are currently seven grain distilleries in Scotland, all of which are much larger in scale than traditional malt distilleries. For example, Diageo operated 28 malt distilleries and one grain distillery in 2014. The one grain distillery produced more spirit that year than the 28 malt distilleries combined.

3. Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Ingredients: malted barley, water and yeast.

Product of more than one malt distillery, a vatting (mix) of more than one single malt whisky.

4. Blended Grain Scotch Whisky

Ingredients: malted and unmalted barley, cereals (maize, wheat) water and yeast.

Product of more than one grain distillery, a vatting (mix) of more than one single grain whisky.

5. Blended Scotch Whisky

Ingredients – malted and unmalted barley, cereals (maize, wheat), water and yeast.

Vatting (mix, blend) of 1 or more malt whiskies and 1 or more grain whiskies. Product of numerous distilleries.

Fun fact: Blended Scotch is by far the most popular category. Approximately 9 in every 10 bottles of Scotch sold globally is a blend.

What does “single cask Scotch whisky" mean?

While not specifically defined in the Scotch Whisky Regulations (2009 UK legislation outlining legal requirements for Scotch), the term falls under the Consumer Rights Act (2015 UK legislation outlining general consumer protection) which states that any food description must be accurate, clear and not misleading.

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