If you love Scotch whisky, then you should know the difference between a single malt (a whisky that consists of malt whisky from just one distillery) and a blended Scotch (a blend of malt and grain whisky). But these are not the only categories in Scotch whisky.
There are three others – single grain (grain whisky from one single grain distillery), blended grain (a blended whisky that consists only of grain whiskies), and the subject of today’s column, blended malt whisky.
Often confused with blended Scotch, blended malt is a whisky that is a blend of just malt whiskies from two or more distilleries, with no grain whiskies added in (unlike blended Scotch).
While it may not be as common as blended Scotch and single malt, it is a category that has been increasingly popular of late, thanks in part to two high-profile brands – Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Green Label, and William Grant And Sons’ Monkey Shoulder.
First introduced in 2005, The Green Label is the only blended malt in Johnnie Walker’s range of coloured “Labels” (the rest are all blended scotch), and was only reinstated back into the core range recently after being discontinued in all markets except Taiwan since 2012. It is a blend of malts from Diageo’s malt distilleries, including Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila.
Monkey Shoulder, on the other hand, is a blend of malts from just three distilleries – Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie.
Now that you know the difference between blended malt and the other categories, the big question is: why should you choose a blended malt over a single malt or blended scotch?
“It really comes back down to the three different expressions of flavour,” said Jeremy Lee, brand ambassador of Johnnie Walker in Malaysia.
“A single malt tends to have just one particular taste profile, whereas a blended malt gives me the maltiness and characteristics of a malt whisky, but with different taste profiles.
“On the other hand, a blended Scotch for me is more about the complexity you get when you mix malt and grain whisky together, which really creates a different ecosystem within the whisky.”
The blended malt category used to be called vatted malt, or pure malt, in the past.
Then around 2003, malt distillery Cardhu (owned by Diageo) was selling so much single malt in Spain that they could not keep up with demand, so they decided to combine their single malt with malts from other distilleries and release it under the name “Cardhu Pure Malt”.
That, of course, caused a lot of dissent amongst the other industry players, and in 2009, a Scottish law was passed renaming all “vatted malt” and “pure malt” to “blended malt” and thus making it illegal for Scotch producers to label it otherwise.
The fact that “blended malt” sounds so close to “blended whisky” is an unfortunate result of that law, and Lee reckons it does confuse people, to a certain extent.
“Most people here still don’t even know the difference between a single malt and a blended Scotch, let alone a blended malt,” Lee said.
According to Monkey Shoulder regional brand ambassador Jay Gray, it’s still hard to explain a blended malt to people.
“I just explain to them what malt whisky and grain whisky are first. Then from there, once they have the idea in their heads, it’s easier to tell them that Monkey Shoulder has three malt whiskies in it and no grain, whereas a blended Scotch has both malt and grain whiskies,” he said.
Monkey Shoulder was created to steer consumers away from the traditional style of drinking whisky, Gray explained.
“Because we’re trying to do that, we tend not to talk about what’s inside it, but I CAN tell you that it has malt from three of our distilleries – Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie,” he said, adding that the original idea behind Monkey Shoulder was to create a blended malt that was its brand in its own right.
“We wanted Monkey Shoulder to be very mixable in cocktails, and also be able to stand well on its own.
“For bartenders, when you want to introduce a customer to something, it is a lot easier to do with something like Monkey Shoulder, where you don’t have to bend over too much to give them what they want.
“It’s an easy, accessible whisky that has its own character as well.”
Does a blended malt make for a better introduction to malt whisky than a single malt though?
“I do think it’s a good introduction to malt whisky, yes. It’s mellow, easy, and won’t scare people away!” Gray said with a laugh.
“Another thing is, something like Monkey Shoulder helps take away the stigma of age statements, and allows people to try the category of malt whisky without any preconceptions about its value or taste.”
Lee concurred, and predicted that blended malts could become big in the future.
With demand for single malt worldwide growing faster than the distilleries can supply it, the current trend for many distillers is to do away with the age statements (which denotes the youngest whisky in the blend) that have been a mainstay on Scotch bottle labels for so long. This will allow them to put younger whiskies into their bottles.
“Yes, Diageo has so many single malts and still has the largest inventory of whiskies on stock, but if we keep pushing only age-statement single malts, we might run out of stocks eventually!” Lee said, concluding that besides non-age statement expressions, coming up with blended malts could be another way for distilleries to stay in the game.
“Just taking away the age statement might give consumers a negative impression. But if they came up with something like a blended malt, they could have a chance of creating something new that could attract the consumers instead,” he said.
“That’s why I think blended malt will be big in the future, and more companies could go into it.”
Michael Cheang once tried creating his own blended malt by pouring a few single malts into a glass. How did it taste? Let’s just say he should stick to the day job. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page or follow Tipsy-Turvy on Instagram.