18 Dec 2023

Single Malt Whisky vs. Blended Whisky

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Categorized under: Distillery / Whisky

Single malt whisky vs. blended whisky. An age-old conundrum.

Which one is better? What are the differences between them? Should one be served neat and the other in a cocktail? These are questions we’re asked from time to time.

In this blog we’ll unravel the origins, differences, and craftsmanship involved in producing both single malt and blended whiskies. But first…


What is Whisky?

Whisky is a dark spirit which is made from a fermented mash of cereals or grains and has been matured for a period of time in an oak cask. In Scotland, whisky must be matured in an oak cask for at least three years and one day in order to legally be called Scotch whisky.


Single Malt Whisky

Single malt whisky is made from 100% malted barley in copper stills and is the product of just one distillery. Originally known as ‘uisge beatha’, the Scottish Gaelic term for ‘water of life’, whisky has been produced in Scotland for hundreds of years, tracing its roots back to 15th century missionary monks, who passed on their meticulous distillation practices to regional barley farmers. 

Today, there are around 140 distilleries producing single malt whisky.

Production Process of Single Malt Whisky
The production process involves mashing the malted barley, fermentation, distillation in copper stills and then maturation in oak casks. The ageing process imparts additional flavours and complexities, allowing a whisky to evolve and develop its ‘personality’ over time. The result is a singular expression of the distillery’s craftsmanship and the surrounding climate, environment, and geography.

Single malt whisky is traditionally served neat, with a drop of water, or with ice.



Blended Whisky

Blended whisky is made by combining single malt whisky with grain whisky (which is usually made from rye, wheat or corn).

The origins of blended whisky date back to the mid-19th century in Scotland when whisky distiller, Andrew Usher, recognised the need for greater consistency of flavour. He set about experimenting by blending single malt with the relatively new grain whiskies. 

Around the same time, Scottish merchants and grocers began to unofficially develop their own in-house blends by using grain whisky to top up their existing supplies of single malt whisky, which they sold directly from casks in their shops. These early blenders were people whose names are recognisable to every whisky-lover today, e.g. John ‘Johnnie’ Walker, the Chivas Brothers, William Teacher (Teacher’s), and George Ballantine (Ballantine’s) amongst others.

Today, blended whisky accounts for nearly 90% of all Scotch whisky sold around the world.


Production Process of Blended Whisky
Whisky blenders ‘marry’ different whiskies to create a consistent and well-balanced final product. Whiskies are mixed together in a blending vat, then returned to a cask and left to ‘marry’ for a period of several months. Blenders are skilled artisans who must have an acute understanding of the individual characteristics of each whisky component.

Blended whisky can be served neat, in a long drink with soda or mixed into a cocktail.


What are the differences?

Single malts and blended whiskies each have unique characteristics and qualities.

Single Malt Whisky

  • Exclusively made from malted barley.
  • Produced from just one distillery.
  • Encapsulates the essence of a specific region.
  • Often more bold and distinct flavours.

Blended Whisky

  • Made from a blend of single malt and grain whiskies.
  • Produced from different distilleries.
  • Can provide a broad spectrum of flavours.
  • Often smooth and approachable.


The Borders Distillery — Workshop Series

Here at The Borders Distillery, our blended whiskies are released as part of our Workshop Series, which showcases our collection of experimental blended whiskies, highlighting the creativity and commitment of our distillers. 

Every year a new edition will be released, each expressing a unique aspect of whisky making. Every release is viewed by us as a stepping stone, telling the next chapter of our story on the journey towards producing our very first single malt whisky in the coming years.

There have been two Workshop Series releases so far:

WS:01 Borders Malt & Rye

The first in the series, WS:01 Borders Malt & Rye became the first Scotch whisky to leave the Scottish Borders since 1837 when it was released in 2022. We distilled a small batch of rye spirit and matured it in the same fresh-fill bourbon casks as the malt to create a remarkable and aromatic whisky.

WS:02 The Long & Short of It

Our newest release, WS:02 The Long & Short of It was born from our distillers’ experimentation in fermentation. Our distillers experimented with very short fermentations of 55 hours and very long ones of 150 hours. Both batches were then distilled twice and matured in first fill ex-bourbon barrels, before being married with single grain. 



Final Thoughts

Whether you prefer either single malt whisky or blended whisky is a matter of personal preference, but knowing the difference can help you make an informed choice. 

One isn’t better than the other. They’re just different.

Additionally, if you prefer to mix single malt whisky into a cocktail or drink blended whisky neat, you can. In fact, our WS:02 The Long & Short of It has been purposely crafted to be served long or short. Your whisky, your way!

So, whether you find yourself drawn to either single malt whisky or blended whisky, savour the moment and raise a glass to the water of life ‘uisge beatha’ in whichever form it comes.

Slàinte Mhath!


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