Scotch Whisky is often simply referred to as Scotch in the United States and elsewhere, or simply as Whisky in Scotland. Scotch whisky is divided into four distinct categories: Single Malt, Vatted Malt (also called “pure malt”), Blended and Single Grain.

There are two major categories, single and blended. Single means that all of the product is from a single distillery, while Blended means that the product is composed of whiskies from two or more distilleries.

Single malt whisky is 100% malted barley whisky from one distillery. Single grain whisky is a grain whisky from one distillery (not from a single type of grain)

Vatted, Pure or Blended is a malt whisky created by mixing single malt whiskies from more than one distillery.

Blended grain whisky is whisky created by mixing grain whiskies from more than one distillery.

Blended scotch whisky is a mixture of single malt whisky and grain whisky usually from multiple distilleries.

Of these, the single-malt Scotch is usually hailed as being of the highest caliber, and as such is both the most expensive and the most sought after.

The Scotch Whisky Act and Order

The Scotch Whisky Act 1988 and The Scotch Whisky Order 1990 define Scotch Whisky in UK law. Under the legislation, Scotch Whisky means whisky:

  1. which has been produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
    1. (i) Processed at that distillery into a mash;
      (ii) converted to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and
      (iii) fermented only by the addition of yeast;
  2. which has been distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8% so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production;
  3. which has been matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres, the period of that maturation being not less than three years;
  4. which retains the colour, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation, and to which no substance other than water and spirit caramel has been added.

A Single Malt Scotch Whisky is the product of one specific distillery and has not been mixed with whisky from any other distilleries. The greatest concentration of malt whisky distilleries can be found in the Speyside region of north-east Scotland, with Highland, Lowland and Islay being the other main malt whisky producing zones. Each of these regions has its own particular distinctive style of malt whisky and although it is not possible for two malts to be identical, even if the distilleries that produce them happen to stand side by side, it is usually possible to distinguish in which region of Scotland a particular whisky was made.

Blended/Pure Malt (Vatted) Scotch Whisky- A Vatted Malt will contain a number of malt whiskies that have been skilfully blended together or “married,” to create a consistent whisky with its own distinct, identifiable character. Such a malt can also consist entirely of malt whiskies of various ages from the same distillery. However, vatted malts will never contain any grain whisky. A fairly uncommon type of whisky, it is often well suited to those who prefer their whisky to be less challenging, due to the fact that the blender’s skill will more often than not produce an unvarying malt with highly definable traits.

Single Grain Scotch Whisky – A Single grain whisky is the product of one Grain distillery and is usually made from wheat, corn or unmalted barley. There are about 8 operating grain distilleries in Scotland, the majority being in central Scotland with the exception of Invergordon in the northern Highlands and Girvan in the far south. There are of course more grain distilleries, which are now closed or mothballed.

Blended Scotch Whisky – Blended scotch whisky may contain a combination of whiskies from over 40 or 50 different malt and grain distilleries. The normal ratio of malt to grain is 60% grain 40% malt. The percentage of malt used will determine the quality and smoothness of taste and character. Each whisky used in the blending process will normally have been matured for about 5 years, however there are a number of higher aged blended scotch whiskies available