There are five different types of Scotch that define how the spirit is distilled, the grains used, and the blend.
Yet, don't confuse these types with the different Scotch regions, which significantly impact the taste of the final product.
The most common types of Scotch are Single Malt and Blended Scotch. Especially, Single Malt is a well-known term. Besides those two, there are three other and lesser-known types of Scotch available: Single Grain, Blended Malt, and Blended Grain Scotch.
However, when you're new to Scotch and looking to buy a quality bottle Single Malt often is the default choice. Although, when asked, most can't explain what Single Malt means.
So, let's change that and see what each of these five different Scotch types means. But first, a quick overview on Scotch in general to level the playing field.
What is Scotch?
Scotch Whisky is a distilled spirit, often made from malted barley but also from other grains. The grains are fermented with the help of yeast before the resulting mash gets distilled.
To be called a Scotch, the distilled spirit must age for at least three years in oak barrels. It also needs to be produced in one of the five Whiskey regions in Scotland: Speyside, Islay, Highland, Lowland, and Campbeltown.
Another requirement is that the spirit, once bottled, must contain at least 40% ABV. Scotch fresh from the barrels usually holds a lot more alcohol and is watered down in most cases until it reaches an alcohol content of 40% to 45%.
How is Scotch different from other Whiskey?
Since Scotch is a specific Whiskey, it is not actually different but has characteristics that make it unique.
The main aspects of Scotch Whisky are:
- Grains - Made from malted barley, rye, and wheat.
- Aging process - Aged for at least three years in oak barrels.
- Flavor - A smooth spirit with a touch of peated smoke
- Different Spelling - Whisky instead of Whiskey
If you want more details, read this post on the characteristics of Scotch Whisky.
The Different Types of Scotch
Now, let's look into the five different types of Scotch. The first is the most popular one, the Single Malt Scotch.
Single Malt Scotch
A Single Malt Scotch is a premium product. The term Single Malt refers to the fact that Scotch is made from 100% malted barley and distilled in pot stills at one single distillery only.
Single Malt Scotch is considered a high-end Whisky, and bottles of this type are usually some of the pricier options.
You won't find a Single Malt of substandard quality. It comes entirely down to personal taste, which ones you like best.
Single Grain Scotch Whisky
Single Grain Scotch is not as widespread as Single Malt, and only a few distilleries specialize in producing it. That is because it often is used to make another type of Scotch, the Blended Scotch.
Single Grain Scotch is made from mainly malted barley. However, the mash bill also includes other whole grains as well as malted and unmalted cereals.
Further, just like a Single Malt, it needs to be distilled at one distillery - that's what Single indicates. Yet, instead of pot stills, producers usually use column stills for Single Grain.
Renowned brands that produce Single Grain Scotch are, for instance, Glendalough and Loch Lomond.
Blended Malt Scotch
Like Single Malt, Blended Malt Scotch is made from 100% malted barley - hence the term malt. But instead of coming from only one distillery, this Scotch is made from products coming from at least two different distilleries.
In the past, Blended Malt was known as vatted malt or pure malt.
Today, this variation is a rare sight because there's so little demand for blended Malt Scotch.
A blend of Single Malt Whiskies from different distilleries is called Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.
Blended Grain Scotch
Analogous to Blended Malt, Blended Grain Scotch is made by combining at least two Single Grain Whiskies from different distilleries. And since Single Grain is already a rare sight, Blended Grain is relatively rare, too.
Blended Scotch Whisky
Blended Scotch has the loosest regulations and is made from a blend of at least one Single Malt Scotch and one Single Grain Scotch from different distilleries.
This type of Scotch is known for its balanced taste and smoothness.
The flavors of this spirit make it ideal for mixed drinks and Scotch cocktails.
Frankly, a good Blended Scotch should be in every well-stocked home bar. You can get affordable options from world-famous brands like Johnny Walker, Dewar's, and the Famous Grouse.
How does each type taste?
Scotch Whisky is known for its diversity in flavors, and you cannot define the taste by the type. Especially because these differences are only partly due to the production processes. A lot of the variety also is yielded by the regional differences.
For example, when looking for a smoky Scotch, suggesting picking a Single Malt or Single Grain won't be helpful. However, recommending a Scotch from Islay will likely get you what you're after.
Of course, this doesn't apply to all products from this region, but it's a good rule of thumb.