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5 Types of Scotch Whisky and How They’re Different

Scotch whisky uses water, yeast, and another type of grain, like malted barley, to produce a strong and sweet liquor. 

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Room full of whisky cabinets storing different types of whiskey

There are many different types of scotch drinks, brands, and distilleries in the United Kingdom — so how do you find the kind of Scotch that you will like best? 

Understanding the various types of Scotch to choose from when pairing it with food, ordering in a restaurant, sipping at a distillery, or purchasing for a dinner party is key to becoming an advanced whisky drinker.

Let’s check out the long list of Scotch whisky types and the five main types of Scotch that differ in flavor profiles, appearance, and taste.

There are five main types of scotch whisky that buyers and drinkers should know before purchasing at a bar, scotch shop, liquor store, or restaurant. 

Blended Grain Scotch Whisky

Blended-grain scotch whisky is made from more than one two-grain malt scotch whiskies from various distilleries. However, the distilleries must be located in Scotland, United Kingdom, for it to be considered scotch whisky. 

tasting glasses with blended grain scotch whisky

Usually, blended-grain scotch whisky is rarer and more unique than single-grain whisky. This blend is well known for having a strong flavor that usually resembles rye, corn, malted barley, or wheat.

A blended grain scotch whisky combines various malts and grains from different distilleries. Single grain blends are typically known for being lighter. In contrast, blended grains are known for having a more distinct and robust flavor profile.

Some of the most common blended grain scotch whiskies include Haig Club, Compass Box Hedonism, North British 1991, Port Dundas 1996, Caledonian 1987, Port Dundas 2006, North British 2008, Arbikie highland Rye 1794, Invergordon 1997, and many others. 

Blended Scotch Whisky

Blended scotch whisky is a type of whisky made almost entirely from wheat and contains between 20-40% single malt scotch and 60-80% single grain whisky. 

blended Scotch whisky bottle

Scotch whisky is a type of malt and grain whisky combined to make a blended version of single-malt Scotch whisky.

Distilleries in Scotland began making blended scotch whiskies in the late 18th century, using wheat, malted barley, and rye to create a unique flavor. The distilling process of blended scotch whisky involves aging whisky in an oak barrel for three years.

After the distillation process, the scotch whisky is then divided into separate categories — one being blended Scotch whisky. Blended scotch whisky uses malt and grain whisky from two different distilleries. 

Some of the most common blended scotch whisky types you can order online or from a store include Ballantines, Teachers Highland Cream, The Famous grouse, Vat 69, Cutty Sark, Chivas Real, SIA Scotch Whisky, and Jonnie Walker. 

Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Blended malt whisky is a combination of single malt whiskies from different distillers in Scotland, United Kingdom. Blended is a term that refers to combining different batches of single malt whisky from varying locations

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Pouring in tulip-shaped tasting glass of blended malt scotch whisky

The ‘malt’ within the blended malt scotch whisky is the malted grain used in creating the whisky product. When creating Scotch whisky, barley is used instead of rye, wheat, or corn mash. 

Simply put, blended malt scotch whisky is from more than two single malt scotch whiskies from different Scottish distilleries. 

Some of the most popular blended malt scotch whisky brands include Johnnie Walker, Doulas Lain, Monkey Shoulder, Mackinlay’s, and Compass Box. 

Single Grain Scotch Whisky

Single-grain scotch whisky is one of the five categories of Scotch whisky. This type of whisky is made with barley, water, and other cereals.

pouring in a tasting glass of Single Grain Scotch Whisky

The specific distiller can choose the flavor profiles and the additional grains added to the water and barley, such as rye, corn, or wheat. 

Single-grain scotch whiskies are distilled using column stills, a unique distillation method that is quite unique from the pot stills method.

Column stills feature two columns to distill a spirit. After the distiller adds the additional ingredients to the whisky, it is no longer considered a single malt beverage. 

Single-grain scotch whiskies are similar to single malts but have a lighter whisky, one barley, and one other grain. The addition of other ingredients makes the single-grain scotch whisky lighter and crisper than a single-malt scotch. 

Some of the most common types of single-grain scotch whisky include The Girvan Patent Still Single Grain Scotch Whisky No. 4, Teeling Single Grain Irish Whisky, Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky, and Nikka Coffey Grain. 

Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Single malt scotch whisky is a single malt whisky that is made and distilled in distilleries in Scotland, United Kingdom. In order to be considered a single malt scotch whisky, the liquor must be distilled at one distillery in Scotland using a pot still process (compared to a column still process). 

Single malt scotch whisky in glen cairn glass

The term ‘single malt’ means that the whisky has only been blended and distilled in one distillery in Scotland. Similar to other types of Scotch whisky drinks, single malt Scotch must be distilled within the country and utilize oak casks to soak the liquor for at least three years. 

The first production of single-malt Scotch whisky dates back to the late 15th century. After the initial production, the following centuries saw taxes and fees applied to whisky production, with Parliament creating the Excise Act and punishments on local distillers and landowners.

However, the late 20th century saw a huge bloom in the production of single malt Scotch whisky in Scotland, with 110 distilleries present in making single malt whisky.

There are different types of malts depending on the specific region in Scotland. For example, there are Island single malts in the Highland region and Campbeltown single malts in the southwestern portion of the Highland region in Northern Scotland. 

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bottle of single malt whisky

Some of the most common types of single malt Scotch whisky are The Glenlivet 12 Year Old, Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie, Aberlour 16 Year Old, Auchentoshan American Oak, Aberfeldy 12 Year Old, and The GlenDronach Original. 

There are also independent bottlers and distillers that are very common in the country, such as Douglas Laing and Co and Blackadder. 

Scotch Whisky Regions

There are different Scotch whisky regions within the country that produce distinct flavor profiles and appearances in their whisky beverages. 

Various bottles from  Scotch whisky regions on the shelf

Campbeltown

Campbeltown is a tiny island near Islay in the southeastern section of the Highlands in Scotland. Although it is not the largest, this region still contains a whopping 34 distilleries!

Old wooden barrels and casks at Campbeltown Springbank whisky distillery

Campbeltown whisky is known for its pungent taste, often including smoky aftertastes and flavors. 

The most common regions for producing whiskies include Springbank, Glen Scotia, and Glengyle. Most Campbeltown whiskies include vanilla, candy, fruit, and smoke notes. 

Highlands

The Highlands region in Scotland is known for its wide variety of flavors and appearance regarding whisky types. The prevalence of light whiskies, deep whiskies, and spiced malts makes the Highlands one of the most versatile areas of production for all types of whisky drinkers.

Highland Park 12-Year Single Malt
Source: highlandparkwhisky.com

In the northern part of the highlands, you will find whiskies that are sweeter and richer, such as in Dalmore. In the eastern section, there are fruitier and lighter whiskies, such as those found in Aberfeldy or Glendronach.

The whiskies in the Western Highlands region have a strong peat flavor, such as those from the coastal area of Oban. 

Islands

The islands of Scotland produce unique whiskies. Still, they are not recognized under Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 in the Scotch Whisky Association.

Different types of scotch

Even so, the most famous locations in the islands where Scotch whisky is distilled include Highland Park and Jura, both of which use smoke, pepper, and honey in their distinct whisky types. 

Islay

Islay is an island in the southwestern region of the Highlands in Northern Scotland.

islay whiskey

This region is famous for its extreme use of peat in its whisky blends. Furthermore, many of the residents living on this small island are tied to the whisky business

The most famous distilleries in Islay include Bruichladdich, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. Most distilleries use soap, apples, kippers, and seaweed notes in their liquors. 

Lowlands

The Lowland region in Scotland offers a more refined and subtle flavor profile to their whisky production instead of a deeper and darker spiced whisky.

Auchentoshan 12 Year

The most common notes used in this type of whisky include honey, ginger, toast, cinnamon, and grass. Many Scottish whisky drinkers prefer to have a dram of this liquor before a fancy dinner party. 

The most famous whisky types from the Lowlands include Lenticchie and Auchentoshan, especially considering there are less than five significant distilleries in this region.

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Some of the most popular types of whisky from the Lowlands include the Auchentoshan 12-Year-Old, Auchentoshan American Oak, and the Blandoch Talia 25-Year-Old.

Speyside

Speyside is a region within Scotland famous for its use of fruit and natural plants in its whisky production.

Speyside scotch whisky in tasting glasses

The famous ‘Speyside Way’ reflects the region’s focus on the glens, plants, flowers, and fruit. Speyside whisky uses deep spices, like vanilla and honey, to create a unique flavor. 

The most famous Speyside whisky distilleries include Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. In fact, the Glenfiddich is the best-selling single malt whisky in the entire world. 

Scotch Cocktails

You can make numerous cocktails using Scotch whisky types from various distilleries around the country. 

Penicillin Cocktail with Scotch and Ginger
  • Penicillin — This Scotch cocktail uses scotch whisky with lemon, honey, and ginger.
  • Blood and Sand — The Blood and Sand cocktail combines the properties of a Manhattan and Martini with Scotch, blood orange juice, and cherry liqueur
  • Scotch Sour — Use blended Scotch instead of whisky for a whisky sour to create this smoke-filled and fruity drink.
  • Godfather — The Godfather uses Scotch whisky and amaretto to create a simple and strong cocktail. 
  • Rob Roy Cocktail — The Rob Roy uses Scotch whisky instead of rye.
  • Rusty Nail — combine Scotch whisky with honey to create this spicy and sweet cocktail. 
  • Bobby Burns — The Bobby Burns uses a blended scotch whisky, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and a lemon peel garnish. 
  • Drunk Uncle — Combine Islay scotch with amaro, Martini vermouth, and a grapefruit twist for this classic drink. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Before buying or ordering a scotch whisky, check out these commonly asked questions from whisky drinkers. 

What is the best way to drink Scotch whisky?

One of the best ways to drink Scotch whisky is to sip it neat. Many experienced whisky drinkers tape small sips of whisky and have cold water in between to refresh their palate.

You can add water to your whisky to create a new flavor profile. Another way to enjoy Scotch whisky is to mix it with other ingredients in a cocktail.

How should Scotch whisky be stored?

Scotch whisky should be stored in a cool location where the temperature doesn’t change between very hot and very cold temperatures.

Whisky owners should keep their liquor in a temperate location that does not get any warmer than 20 degrees Celsius.

Which Scotch is ideal for beginners?

Some of the best Scotch whisky types for beginner drinkers include sweet and fruity types with hints of vanilla, honey, or sweetness. 

For example, Speyside Scotch combines fruit with honey and vanilla. Other options include Aberfeldy 12-Year-Old with honey and pineapple notes, Johnnie Walker Black with smoke and vanilla notes, or The Balvenie 14-Year-Old Caribbean CAsk with brown sugar and orange notes.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

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Paul Kushner

Written by Paul Kushner

Founder and CEO of MyBartender. Graduated from Penn State University. He always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. His restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time he turned 17 he was serving tables, and by 19 he was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, Paul opened his first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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