The 5 Categories of Scotch Whisky

by Matt Chambers
at Whisky for Everyone

There are five categories of Scotch whisky as defined by the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) in 2009. These were drawn up to protect the laws, reputation, and interests of Scotch whisky and its producers. They are also designed to make things easier for consumers to understand.

All Scotch whisky products must adhere to every single one of the following laws, otherwise they cannot be legally labelled as Scotch whisky. The whisky, whichever category it sits in, must be:

  • Distilled, matured, and bottled in Scotland
  • Made using just three ingredients – water, cereal, and yeast
  • Matured in oak barrels no larger than 700 litres for a minimum of three years
  • Bottled at a minimum alcohol strength of 40% ABV
  • No additives (except for water or E150 colouring).

So, what are the five categories? Here are the definitions in a nutshell:

Single malt

Single malts are distilled at a single distillery and made from 100% malted barley, without the addition of any other cereals. The easiest way to remember the definition is single = one distillery + malt = 100% malted barley.

Single malts are distilled in batches using copper pot stills. There are currently over 140 distilleries in Scotland that are producing single malt whisky. For more, read our blog post All You Need to Know About Scotch Single Malt Whisky.

Single grain

These are distilled at a single distillery and made from whole grains or other malted and un-malted cereals. This is any cereal except malted barley. The most common cereal for making single grain whisky is wheat, although maize was historically used.

Several places are now distilling rye or experimenting with other cereals. They are distilled continuously through a column or Coffey still.

Blended Scotch

A blended Scotch is a marriage of one or more single malts with one or more single grain whiskies. The single grain is used as a foundation with single malts of differing characteristics layered on top to create the desired flavour profile.

This is the largest category of products and accounts for 90% of all Scotch whisky sales worldwide. For more, read our blog post What Is Blended Scotch Whisky? A Beginner’s Guide.

Blended malt

A blended malt is a whisky that marries two or more single malts that have been distilled at more than one distillery. This is a growing category with many of the major Scotch whisky companies now having representation.

Blended malts are particularly impactful, flavoursome, and versatile, which makes them excellent for using in cocktails. This has made them popular with bartenders.

Blended grain

A blended grain whisky is one that marries two or more single grains that have been distilled at more than one distillery. This is the rarest category of the five and relatively few products exist. They tend to be creamy, soft, and expressive.

Numbers of blended grains will grow as single grain whisky becomes more popular and understood by whisky drinking consumers.

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