One of the first challenges you’ll face when learning about whiskey for the first time is understanding the many varieties that are available.
Included amongst those varieties are Blended Whiskeys, Single Malt Whiskeys, Single Cask Whiskeys, and Single Grain Whiskeys.
To help you understand these common whiskey varieties, this post will take a closer look Blended Whiskeys. I’ll explain the different definitions of blended whiskey and take a quick look at the history of blended whiskey.
What is a Blended Whiskey?
As the name suggests, “blended whiskey” usually refers to products created from a blend of several other whiskeys.
However, it can also refer to whiskeys that are blended with neutral grain spirits and other types of additives, including colourings and flavourings.
Most blended whiskeys will mix a high-quality spirit with less expensive ones, to create a more affordable whiskey. There are also premium blended whiskeys that are carefully created using a combination of several high-quality whiskeys.
Various countries have legislation in place which restricts the products that can be labeled “Blended Whiskey”. This includes:
Scotland has very restrictive legislation for the use of terms relating to whisky. Any product labeled “Scotch whisky” must be made in Scotland, distilled twice in pot stills, and aged in oak barrels (in addition to several other rules). The following definitions apply to all Scotch whiskies:
- Single Malt Scotch Whisky
All single malt whiskies must be made at a single distillery from a fermented mash contain 100% malted barley.
- Single Grain Scotch Whisky
This refers to whisky made at one distillery from a fermented mash containing grains other than malted barley. Can be distilled using a continuous still, pot still, or any other type of still.
- Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
This refers to a blended whisky made from two or more single malt whiskies that have come from different distilleries.
- Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
A blend containing single grain whiskies from different distilleries.
- Blended Scotch Whisky
A blended whisky which contains both combining malt whisky and grain whisky obtained from different distilleries.
Blended Scotch whisky is the only type of Scotch whiskey which is allowed to have (E150A) caramel colouring added.
The most popular blended Scotch whiskies include:
- Dewar’s Scotch Whisky
- Johnnie Walker
- The Famous Grouse
- Chivas Regal
- J&B Rare Blended Scotch
- Buchanan’s Deluxe
- Cutty Sark
The Americans are more lenient when it comes to the use of the term “blended whiskey”. All blended American whiskeys must contain at least 20% straight whiskey.
Straight whiskey refers to whiskey which has been created from a fermented grain mash and aged in charred oak barrels for at least two years.
If a blended whiskey is made from a fermented mash containing more than 51% of any particular grain, the name of the grain must be included on the label.
So, a blended whiskey containing over 51% wheat would be a “Blended Wheat Whiskey”. American blended whiskeys are more likely to contain additives including artificial colourings, honey, wine, sherry, or sugar syrup.
The most popular American blended whiskeys include:
- Wild Turkey
- J.H Cutter
- Little Book
- Kessler American Whiskey
- Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey
- Triple Crown
- Bendt No.5
The Irish government defines a blended whiskey as a blend of two or more pot still, grain, or malt whiskeys. Most Irish blended whiskeys have a mild flavour which makes them ideal for use in whiskey cocktails.
The most popular Irish blended whiskeys include:
- Bushmills Black Bush
- Proper No. Twelve
- Writers Tears
The majority of Canadian whiskeys are blended Canadian whiskeys. A “Canadian whiskey” is any grain spirit that has been produced in Canada and aged for at least 3 years in a wooden cask.
The Canadians allow both caramel colouring and flavouring to be added to blended whiskeys.
The most popular Canadian blended whiskeys include:
- Canadian Mist
- Canadian Club
- Rich & Rare
- Black Velvet
Japanese distilleries are known for using a wide variety of fermentation and distillation techniques. They often create several distillates in-house and blend them to create new whiskies with distinctive characteristics.
The most popular Japanese blended whiskeys include:
- Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt
- Nikka Days
- Suntory Toki
- Hatozaki Blended
- Togouchi Premium Blended Japanese Whisky
Where Did Blended Whiskey Come From?
Blended whiskey has been around almost as long as whiskey has been distilled. When whiskey was first sold in shops, grocers would have large casks of whiskey from which customers would refill their bottles.
When a new delivery of whiskey arrived, the grocers would top their casks up, automatically creating blended whiskies.
Eventually, shop owners realised that their blended whiskeys tasted often better than the straight whiskeys they were purchasing from distilleries.
Several shops began carefully blending different whiskies to produce more enjoyable whiskeys.
The concept of blended whiskeys really took off in the early 1800’s when Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey still.
This still produced a lighter style of spirit called grain whisky. Grain whiskey was ideal for blending and attracted consumers who had moved away from the heavier Scotch whiskeys popular at the time.
Distilleries embraced the popularity of blended whiskies and began creating sophisticated blends with unique flavours and aromas. Blended whiskies are still very popular today, with some of the world’s most popular whiskies being blended products.