What is the difference Between Single Batch and Blended Whiskey?
Many whiskey drinkers (and even some bartenders!) have a misbelief that a single-malt Scotch whiskey is not a blended whiskey, but this is simply not the truth. In fact, single-malt Scotch is a blend, as are nearly all the whiskies on the market in the US today – including bourbons, rye’s, Tennessee’s, and scotches.
The formal definition of a blended whiskey is one that contains a mix of barrel-aged malt and grain whiskeys, although informally, any blend of more than one whiskey is a blend. Many blends are made by mixing higher-quality single batch whiskeys with cheaper whiskeys to make a more inexpensive product.
American ‘blended whiskey’ must contain a minimum of 20% straight whiskey. Blended whiskey that contains a minimum of 51% straight whiskey of one particular grain type (i.e., rye, malt, wheat or bourbon whiskey) includes the grain type in its label description – e.g., ‘blended rye whiskey’ or ‘blended bourbon whiskey.’
When a whiskey is labeled ‘single malt’ or ‘single grain,’ it simply means that the whiskey is the product of a single distillery. Again, it does not mean the whiskey is the product of a single batch or a single barrel, but merely of a single distillery.
Most whiskeys available on the market are blends, because when whiskey is aged in oak barrels, a number of variable factors influence the final taste of the spirit in each barrel. These include changes in weather and climate, where a barrel is placed in a warehouse, and even variables in the oak used to make the barrels. Therefore, most whiskeys are blended to produce a product that is consistent from one release to the next. The distillery’s master blender is in charge of mixing barrels together to create a whiskey that is consistent with the brand’s flavor profile – which is why all bottles of Jack Daniels’ Old No. 7, for example, taste essentially the same.
So what about single batch whiskeys? A true ‘single batch’ whiskey is one that is made from a single barrel of whiskey, unmixed with whiskey from other sources. Because the flavor, aroma, color, and other characteristics of single batch whiskey vary from barrel to barrel, each barrel release is a unique product.
Most single batch whiskeys available in the US are made by smaller distilleries, although some larger companies (like the aforementioned Jack Daniels) also release ‘boutique’ bottles of single batch whiskey. Single batch whiskey is almost always more expensive than blended whiskeys of a comparable age, and may vary greatly in taste and appearance from one bottle to another. You don’t necessarily know what you’re getting when you choose a single batch whiskey, which is one of the reasons so many whiskey drinkers love the thrill of purchasing a bottle labeled ‘single batch.’