Single Malt vs Blended Whisky

You might hear ‘single malt’ and ‘blended whisky’ thrown around a fair bit when you’re out at your local bar or chatting with a whisky expert – but if you’ve ever wondered how exactly the two differ then stick with us. We enlisted the help of our clever Head Blender, Jarrad Huckshold, who is not only known for working his magic in our Port Melbourne distillery but also sharing his expertise on all things whisky – namely how single malt and blended whisky vary across things like production process and taste, and if one is really ‘better’ than the other. Hint: it really comes down to personal preference. Let’s top up those glasses and get down to business.     

What is single malt whisky?

Think of single malt whisky as a type of whisky that’s produced by a single distillery using a single malted grain (most of the time barley). As long as the casks used are all from the same distillery, the final result or ‘blend’ is considered a single malt. And what about a single grain whisky – how does that fit into the equation? This type is produced from more than one grain, including barley, wheat or corn, at one single distillery. The most well-known single malt whisky is Scotch whisky, but many others are made around the world, including Japan, Ireland, Canada, America – and Australia.

Barly Malt in Hands of Brewer to make whisky

What is blended whisky?

A blended whisky, as the name suggests, is a blend of malted barley and grain whiskies from multiple distilleries. As a general rule, this style doesn’t include grain whiskies. Blended Whisky is produced by numerous distilleries in Scotland, America, Japan and Australia.

Single Malt vs Blended Whisky?

When comparing the two there’s a few key things to note: a single malt whisky is a whisky from one singular distillery, using one type of grain – even if it’s made up of various barrels of differing ages as well as aged and finished in different woods (think ex-bourbon, French oak, or sherry-seasoned casks). On the other hand, blended whisky is a little more involved: it’s either a blend of malt whisky from multiple distilleries, a blend of grain whiskies from multiple distilleries, or a mix of the two styles sourced from various distilleries. This process is really where blenders come into their own and create the incredible aromas and flavours they’re looking for as they masterfully mix and experiment.

In the case of how the two differ for Starward, Jarrad explains it with a few of our products in mind. “Single malt whisky is entirely made within the four walls of Starward and is comprised of malted barley, water and yeast. This is distilled, matured and packaged on-site. Our single malt whiskies include Nova, Solera and 100 Proof,” he explains, going on “A blended whisky typically comes from two or more sources and can contain a variety of different grains such as wheat, rye and maize. Two-Fold is our version of a blended whisky where we fold together our single malt whisky with a wheat whisky” he says.

Malt in Malting House to make Whisky

When asked if one is more traditional than the other, Jarrad explains that both have a “long, long history” and were in production before what we now see as modern-day single malt and blends. “The Coffey still was invented around the 1830s and is the process of what we would call a grain spirit (whisky) today. Copper pot stills have been used to make single malt for hundreds of years in Scotland, Ireland and even Australia from the late 1800s. Although single malt whisky was being produced according to the current definition, the term 'single malt' didn't really appear until the 1960s,” says Jarrad.

Copper Stills at the Starward Whisky Distillery in Port Melbourne

The production process

Scotch whisky regulators run a pretty tight ship, and state that single malt whisky must be produced from 100% malted barley at a single distillery, using traditional copper pot stills for distillation. The ageing process occurs in an oak barrel or cask – and this is where unique flavours are imparted based on the cask's previous contents. From here they spend anywhere between eight to twenty years or even decades in a cask. Conversely, blended whisky is a carefully curated mix of malt and grain whiskies from multiple distilleries. It’s here that a master blender meticulously marries malt and grain whisky, taking into account their individual characteristics, to achieve a consistent flavour profile.

Jarrad lets us in on what happens behind the scenes when it comes to distilling blended whiskies: “Most of the spirit distilled to make blended whiskies comes from a column still; these can be huge industrial-sized stills that run continuously and are capable of making over a million litres of spirit a week! Single malt is batch distilled in copper pot stills. The nature of this distillation process allows us to create a much different spirit, often heavier and robust to produce a more flavour-forward whisky,” explains Jarrad.

The taste difference

“Typically blended whiskies can be lighter and more delicate than single malt whiskies,” says Jarrad. Single malts can often be matured for years longer and have more impact from the barrel maturation. This is not a definite rule though, there are many examples of light, bright single malts and rich, oily blended whiskies,” he says.

Single Malt Whisky in a glass ready to drink from Starward

Food pairing and cocktail shaking 

The beauty of whisky is that every variety complements food in some way. Here at Starward, we go further for flavour and ensure our whiskies are right at home amongst your dinner party spread. In terms of food pairings we love for blended whisky you can’t go wrong with sushi, quiche, chicken liver pâté, mild dark chocolates and cakes with vanilla. As for single malts, their typical tropical, dried fruit and citrusy notes (think banana, raisins, figs and apricots) pair nicely with everything from dark chocolate and roasted nuts to rosemary focaccia and cheese – heaps of cheese. We’re talking the creamier the better: camembert, mild goat’s cheese, cream cheese or a nice buttery mature cheddar.

And what about cocktails? The good news is both single malt and blended whiskies work exceptionally well in a cocktail. Take our Two-Fold (our blended whisky) in a Rusty Nail or classic Pina Colada with Solera (one of our single malts). We’ll drink to that. 

Blended vs single malt whisky: what’s better?

That’s a tough question! We couldn’t possibly choose a favourite – instead we appreciate them for their different origins and production techniques which contribute to the distinct flavour profiles of both. A single malt whisky lover might rate its bold character, while a blended whisky fan could enjoy its approachableand balanced profile. Jarrad agrees that both are popular but in different ways. “Single malt can certainly be more sought after. It gains much more attention across media platforms, but blended whisky makes up approximately 80-90% of whisky consumed. So, both are popular in their own unique ways.”

So there you have it! That’s a wrap on our single malt whisky chat. Here in Australia, we’ve got some great Australian made whisky, single malt whisky and blended whisky to choose from. And if you’re ready to discover even more styles of whisky, then shop Starward whisky if you have a moment. Cheers!