Different types of whisky

Fredrik Stockborg

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SINGLE MALT AND BLENDED WHISKY

– Hey, bar tender! I’d like to try something new, give a whisky please!
– Sure. Blended or single malt?
– Umm, what’s the difference?
– The price, to start with! But above all, the taste …

When entering the world of whisky, the first thing you’ll discover is that there are two main types: blended and single malt. But what’s the difference? And why are single malt whiskies generally so much more expensive than blended ones?

Traditional single malt whisky is made in the same distillery from one type of malt, that is, malted barley. Blended types contain between 20 and 50 percent malt whisky, and are then balanced out by grain whisky. Grain whisky is a distillate made from grains other than barley – ranging from, for example, maize to wheat – and comes from several different distilleries. It is often blended from various less expensive grains through a continual process of distillation, and doesn’t have to be cleaned every time. This differs from a single malt, which is initially made in a pot still and then usually transferred to an oak cask for at least three years.

The flavour of blended whiskies is therefore weaker and less distinct than single malts; although they are a lot cheaper.

– Okay, I’ll have a single malt in that case!
– Sure. Do you fancy something mild or elegant, a little fruity, or maybe even a smoky whisky?

SMOKY OR ELEGANT?

As a newcomer to the wide world of whisky, it’s easier to get lost early on. In actual fact there is no right or wrong, with choices based entirely on personal preference and taste. Smoky whisky is measured in Phenol Parts per million (PPM), which is an aromatic carbon compound contained in the malted grain following the drying process. The higher the number, the more smoky it is. In combination with the smokiness, these are considered by many to be tarry, which is really just a result of how “contaminated” the malt has become during the drying process.

– Smoky? Sounds risky. I think I’ll start with an elegant whisky
– A predictable but smart choice! I’d advise you to test a smoky one afterwards so you can taste the difference.

It is the maturation which makes a difference to the flavour of different whiskies. Though almost every whisky is stored in oak casks for all or most of the maturation period, there are some which are finished in other types of casks. Sherry casks are among the more popular, alongside port and rum. The sky really is the limit. Other factors that affect taste include the size of the cask, the geographical location and the quality of the water.

– Very interesting! There seems to be a lot to choose from. But can you explain why some of the whiskies on the shelf behind you are spelt with an “e”?
– Good question! The short answer is both geographical and cultural. The word is spelt with an “e” in Ireland and the USA, but the rest of the world spells it with no “e”, that is, “whisky”.

WHAT ABOUT BOURBON?

Alongside whisky and whiskey, Bourbon has become popular all over the world. Produced mainly in Kentucky USA, this is a type of whiskey made with a minimum of 51% maize. Bourbon is perhaps the most popular type of whiskey used to mix cocktails, such as the Whiskey Sour.

– Yep, looks like I’ve really let myself in for a spider’s web of intrigue.
– I’m sure I’ll be right at home, no doubt about it!
– Welcome and cheers, or “Sláinte” as a whisky connoisseur would no doubt say. (Sláinte is the Irish/Gaelic word for health, but is also used in the same way as “Cheers” in English.
– Cheers!

/ Fredrik Stockborg, Instagram: @maltteasers