Blending whisky is a science. Most distilleries employ a highly trained 'master blender' who will know the taste and flavour profile of every batch of whisky intimately. They are able to select for blending the right casks of whisky to give the required characteristics.
Some of the most famous whiskies and whisky brands in the world are blends. These include such heavyweights as the Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal ranges from Scotland and the Jameson range from Ireland. Blends are traditionally used in bars and pubs for cocktails or mixing with soft drinks. This is partly because they are cheaper than single malts and partly because the subtle flavours of a single malt can be masked by a mixer.
Blended whiskies are produced by mixing different types of whisky together. These whiskies can be single malts (made from 100% malted barley) and other whiskies that are made using alternative grains (most commonly wheat). These often come from more than one distillery and are of differing ages. The whiskies are blended together to create a smoother, more complex drink with each part bringing its own characteristics to the blend. Each brand has its own distinct and traditional recipe that is adherred to. Some blended whisky can contain over 50 different single malt and grain whiskies combined together.
Grain whisky are much cheaper to produce than single malts, as the raw materials are more readily available and less expensive than barley. The costs are also reduced as they are produced continuously, rather than in small batches like single malts. These grain whiskies have always been used in blends as a foundation, with the single malts being used as 'accents'. As a rule, the more grain whisky, young whisky in the final product, the cheaper the price to the consumer.
Vatted whiskies are also produced by mixing different types of whisky together. However, in this case only a mix of single malts are used. These whiskies may be from the same or different distilleries, have been matured in different types of cask and be of differing ages. A vatted whisky can by definition therefore contain just two differing whiskies, but commonly contain more. Therefore an easy way to remember the difference between the two is - blends are a combination of different single malts AND grain whiskies, while vattings are a combination of different single malts.
Blended and vatted whiskies have traditionally rarely had any age stated on the label. This is now changing with many brands adopting age statements. This can be a little confusing, especially now that you know that whiskies of differing ages will be included in the blend. When an age is shown this refers to the age of the youngest whisky present in the blend. Other whiskies included will therefore be of the same age and older.
Sandy Hyslop - Master Blender of Ballantine's
Watch our short video below where Sandy Hyslop, the Master Blender of the famous Ballantine's Scotch blended whisky range, speaks about some of his experiences of blending whisky.