Blended Scotch Whisky

17 October, 2016

The first is the fact that a single malt whisky – a whisky from one distillery – is a finite commodity, and when the annual output has gone, it’s gone. If you only produce 5m litres a year, that’s all you can sell of that particular malt. But blends can be expanded by judicially replacing malts in short supply with ones that contribute a similar taste profile. Although the producers don’t like to talk about it, then, blended whiskies are potentially just as dynamic and evolving as single malt whiskies are.

And the result of this is that having introduced their blended whisky in new territories, it is in the interest of the producers to encourage consumers not to turn to a single malt, as they have in the past, but to go to a better or older, more premium version of the original blend.

“Consumers of blends tend to shop from an approved repertoire so will often consider trading up through the range to try new and different variants,” says Oliver Dickson, global associate brand director for William Grant & Sons. “In emerging markets the size of the single malt category is considerably smaller than in developed markets. Consumers consider trading up to a leading blend such as Grant’s from a local dark spirit as a considerable step up in quality and price, without the need to purchase from outside the current blended segment.”

The second factor is also related to single malt whisky shortages and the development of non-age statement single malt whiskies. Invariably these whiskies are made with malt aged for considerably fewer than the 10 or 12 years that many consumers have come to expect as a mark of a quality scotch whisky.

And although it’s not always the case, many are priced close to, or higher than, the original 12-year-old whisky, and at least some of the offerings are of an inferior quality to the whiskies they have replaced. That in turn has led to some consumers to reassess quality name blended whiskies.

“Producers have a duty to ensure that the quality of their whisky meets the very high standards people have come to expect of scotch whisky,” says Diageo’s Morgan.

“But in some ways non-age statement whiskies have brought the skill of the whisky maker into focus. Most people don’t care whether a whisky is a blended malt, or a blend, or a single malt, providing it delivers in taste and quality. People are understanding that a non-age statement whisky is put together using whisky from casks of different types and sizes, and with whisky of different styles and ages, just like a blended whisky is. And

perhaps there’s a growing appreciation of the skill that goes into the blender’s art.”

There’s another irony, here, too. For while single malts are ditching the age from their labels, increasingly blended whiskies are going the other way, and creating an ever-growing premium blended whisky category. It’s not in itself new – brands such as Johnnie Walker Gold and Blue, Ballantine’s 17 Year Old, Chivas Regal 18 Year Old and Grant’s 25 year old have been big sellers for years – but there is a fresh momentum to the category.

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