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The 5 Types of Scotch Whiskey: A Complete Guide

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

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 whiskey drinker.

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

5 Types of Scotch

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

Different types of scotch

Blended Grain Scotch Whiskey

Blended-grain scotch whiskey 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 whiskey. 

tasting glasses with blended grain scotch whisky

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

A blended grain scotch whiskey 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 whiskeys 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 Whiskey

Blended scotch whiskey is a type of whiskey made almost entirely from wheat and contains between 20-40% single malt scotch and 60-80% single grain whiskey. Scotch whiskey is a type of malt and grain whiskey combined to make a blended version of single-malt Scotch whiskey.

blended Scotch whisky bottle

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

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

Some of the most common blended scotch whiskey 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 Whiskey, and Jonnie Walker. 

Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey

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

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

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

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

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

Single Grain Scotch Whiskey

Single-grain scotch whiskey is one of the five categories of Scotch whiskey. This type of whiskey 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 whiskeys 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 whiskey, it is no longer considered a single malt beverage. 

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

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

Single Malt Scotch Whiskey

Single malt scotch whiskey is a single malt whiskey that is made and distilled in distilleries in Scotland, United Kingdom. In order to be considered a single malt scotch whiskey, 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 whiskey has only been blended and distilled in one distillery in Scotland. Similar to other types of Scotch whiskey 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 whiskey dates back to the late 15th century. After the initial production, the following centuries saw taxes and fees applied to whiskey 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 whiskey in Scotland, with 110 distilleries present in making single malt whiskey.

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. 

Some of the most common types of single malt Scotch whiskey 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 Whiskey Regions

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

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 Whiskey Regulations 2009 in the Scotch Whiskey Association.

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

Islay

Islay is an island in the southwestern region of the Highlands in Northern Scotland. This region is famous for its extreme use of peat in its whiskey blends. Furthermore, many of the residents living on this small island are tied to the whiskey 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 whiskey production instead of a deeper and darker spiced whiskey.

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

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

Some of the most popular types of whiskey 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 whiskey production. The famous ‘Speyside Way’ reflects the region’s focus on the glens, plants, flowers, and fruit. Speyside whiskey uses deep spices, like vanilla and honey, to create a unique flavor. 

Speyside scotch whisky in tasting glasses

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

Scotch Cocktails

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

Penicillin Cocktail with Scotch and Ginger
  • Penicillin — This Scotch cocktail uses scotch whiskey 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 whiskey for a whiskey sour to create this smoke-filled and fruity drink.
  • Godfather — The Godfather uses Scotch whiskey and amaretto to create a simple and strong cocktail. 
  • Rob Roy Cocktail — The Rob Roy uses Scotch whiskey instead of rye.
  • Rusty Nail — combine Scotch whiskey with honey to create this spicy and sweet cocktail. 
  • Bobby Burns — The Bobby Burns uses a blended scotch whiskey, 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 whiskey, check out these commonly asked questions from whiskey drinkers. 

What is the best way to drink Scotch whiskey?

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

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

How should Scotch whiskey be stored?

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

Whiskey 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 whiskey 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.

Cheers to Scotch Whiskey

Scotch whiskey is a type of whiskey made in Scotland using malted barley. Some scotch whiskey types include other ingredients that can change the flavor profile, such as blended malt whiskies or blended single malt scotch whiskies. 

This unique type of alcohol uses cereals, yeast, and water to create a distinctive flavor profile. For example, scotch drinkers can either sip this strong liquor neat or use this liquor in cocktails, such as in the Penicillin or Scotch and soda

Check out My Bartender today to read more about Scotch whiskey and find out the specific type you want to order for your upcoming dinner date or house party. 

Leave a comment below to tell us about your favorite type of Scotch!

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my 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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