Blended scotch's relative mildness and superior mixability it is sometimes viewed as inferior to single malts, but the two are apples and oranges. I particularly like Dave Broom’s analogy comparing single malts and blends in his 2014 Whisky: The Manual: “A single malt is like a solitary mountain peak. There are supporting flavors, but the peak rises above them. Blends are like a range of rolling hills. They are beautiful to look at, but part of a wider landscape. They are not better, or worse. They are different."
Blended scotches can also be excellent sipping scotches. Particularly blended malts, I am a big fan of the Compass Box line.
Recommended Blended Scotch Brands:
While less intense than single malts overall, blended scotches come in a similar flavor range of light and grassy to rich and peaty. All of these brands below are very affordable and great for the home bar, though there are a host of others to explore. For more check out, masterofmalt.com and thewhiskeyexchange.com.
Light, grassy and fruity:
These are your gateway scotches. Ideal for citrusy, shaken cocktails.
Dewar's White Label - For a richer version, try the Dewar's 12.
On the smokier side:
Famous Grouse Smokey Black - As you might imagine, like Famous Grouse but smokier, and a little more intense.
Pig's Nose - Contains 40% single malt from Speyside, which is higher than most blends, making this fuller-bodied and a great value.
Johnny Walker Red Label - The most popular scotch brand in the world. The Black label is a step up in price, but also a great smoky mixing scotch, as well as sipping. The much-ballyhooed Blue Label (around $200 a bottle) is also a blend.
Blended Scotch Basics - All of this covered in more detail on the Scotch main page.
Blended Scotch is a mixture of 15%-40% single malt scotch and 60%-85% single grain whisky (see below), which is lighter and generally made mostly from wheat. Sometimes up to 30 single malts are be used in a blend while there’s typically only one grain whisky.
They are ideal for cocktails because the grain whisky stretches and mellows out the intense flavors in the single malt, producing a more balanced whisky.
Blended scotches are much more affordable because single grains are cheaper and more efficient to produce.
If a blend has an age statement, it will be of the youngest whisky in the blend.
Blended Malt Scotch
aka Vatted Malt aka Pure Malt
This is a blend of single malt scotches from multiple distilleries. So it is 100% malted barley, and more intense than most blended scotches. This style allows blenders to really flex their creative muscles and experiment outside of the boundaries of a typical single malt. Blended malts are less common, but they make for some of the most exciting scotch available.
Today blended malt is the official name for the style, but it was also previously known as "vatted malt" or "pure malt scotch", because the word "blend" used to have a negative connotation.
Johnny Walker Green Label - Not as expensive as you'd think.
Compass Box Peat Monster - The name says it all, but there's more to this than peat. It is a great, balanced blend.
Monkey Shoulder - Great fuller-flavored blend for mixing. Not too smoky and at an excellent pricepoint.
Grain Scotch Whisky
Grain whiskey is made predominantly from wheat, sometimes corn, and there will always be some malted barley. They are distilled in column stills, which generally produce lighter spirits and are much more efficient than the pot stills used for single malts. This, coupled with wheat's affordability, makes make them considerably cheaper to produce. Most grain whiskey is aged 3-5 years though some are as old as 12 and beyond. The majority of grain whisky is used for making blended scotch, as discussed above.
Single Grain Scotch
Most grain scotch whisky is also technically single grain scotch whisky. Like single malt scotch, single grain scotch must all come from one distillery but it does not have to be made from one specific grain. The "Single" refers to the distillery, not the grain, which is a little confusing.
Standalone Grain Whisky Brands
Though the primary purpose of grain whisky is for use in blends, some grain whiskys are beginning to be bottled and sold in their own right, giving this category a chance to step out of from the shadows.
Grain whiskies offer a counterpoint to scotches typical flavors. They're lighter, gentler, but still rich and very enjoyable. Almost like an American whiskey but with a Scottish approach. They are not widely available but it’s an evolving category. Compass Box Hedonism (Blended Grain), Famous Grouse The Snow Grouse (Blended Grain) - meant to be kept in the freezer, and Cameron Brig (Single Grain) are three well-regarded examples.
These are blends of single grain scotches from different distilleries, following the model of blended malt scotch. They are rarest of the scotch categories.