Difference Between Malt Whisky vs Grain Whisky

Understanding the difference between Malt and Grain whisky is easier said than done. Most people tend to get lost in the sentiment surrounding different types of whiskies wherein a number of myths and inaccuracies persist.

Knowing the complexities and different iterations of whisky takes some time, and what may seem obvious can turn out to be entirely deceiving. Did you know Single Malt whisky does not mean whisky from one barrel, or one distillation batch?

There are many such terms about whisky and types of whisky that are often confusing. Today, let us learn the major and minor differences between Malt whisky and Grain whisky, and the different ways these two types of whisky are used by distillers and whisky blenders.

What is the difference between Malt whisky & Grain whisky?

Scotch Bottle

For starters, the most prominent and discernible difference between the two is that Malt Whisky can only be distilled from malted barley. Grain Whisky on the other hand can be distilled from any type of grain, whether it is unmalted barley, wheat, corn and rye.

Malt Whisky is prepared only with a mash of malted barley, and nothing else. No other types of grains can be used when making Malt Whisky, whereas making Grain Whisky allows distillers more freedom to use any grain of their choice, or even a combination of grains.

This represents the biggest difference between Malt Whisky and Grain Whisky, but there are other more complicated distinctions between the two types of whisky. Let’s learn the difference between two often confused distinctions – Single Malt whisky and Single Grain Whisky.

What is the difference between Single Malt & Single Grain whiskies?

Many seem to get confused between that Single Malt & Single Grain whisky mean. Since it has been established that ‘Malt whisky’ can only be distilled from malted barley and malted barley alone, what does Single Malt whisky mean?

The Glenlivet

Malt whisky from a single distillery such as The Glenlivet is called Single Malt whisky. Since the distillery is located in Scotland, it is known as Single Malt Scotch whisky.

Single Malt whisky is not the name for whisky sourced from one barrel, or one particular batch of barrels, or distilled in one batch. Single malt whisky means only one thing – that the whisky has been distilled, matured and bottled at one distillery. It may come from different barrels, batches and even have different ages. As long as a whisky is distilled, matured and bottled at a single distillery, it is and can be labelled a Single Malt whisky.

So what does Single Grain whisky mean? Single grain whiskies, like Single Malt whiskies also denote the origin of the whisky from one distillery alone. As we have already ascertained, that Grain whisky can be distilled from any type of unmalted grain, but to be a Single Grain whisky’, it has to be distilled, matured and bottled at one distillery.

Now that we have learned what both Single Malt and Single Grain mean, let us try and understand by Single Grain whiskies are far less prevalent than Single Malts.

Why don’t we see Single Grain whiskies too often?

While Single Malts are erroneously considered to be superior to other types of whisky, it is Blended whisky that rules the roost. More than any other type of whisky, Blended whisky makes up for a huge chunk of whisky sales worldwide. The definition of Blended whisky can vary wildly throughout the world, but let us take Scotland as an example here.

Haig Club

Haig Club is one of the few Single Grain whiskies in the market today. Endorsed by David Beckham, it is beginning to gain some popularity in the whisky world.

Single Malts are considered better in many cases simply due to a belief that has poured over into the minds of whisky drinkers from generation to generation. The truth is, both Single Malts and Blends are equally great when made and matured well enough.

Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

Chivas Regal is one of the few Blended Scotch whisky brands that are made up of fine malt and grain whiskies to achieve a sublime balance of smoothness and delicious flavours.

Grain whiskies, Single Grain or not, on the other hand, have historically been cheaper to distil, and their flavour profile is considered light, pleasant and not too overwhelming. For these qualities, grain whisky is often plays a more subdued, supporting role in blended Scotch whiskies.

They are used as fillers in blends for their smoothness, and their ability to not overpower, or hamper the taste of Single Malts that bring the flavour of the blend. Ballantine’s, one of the world’s most successful makers of Blended Scotch whisky, use Single Malts from Miltonduff, Glenburgie and Glentauchers for their blends. Their Grain whiskies come in from Strathclyde, and Master Blender Sandy Hyslop blends these whiskies to perfection.

Fun fact – the Ballantine’s Finest is blended with a recipe that has remained unchanged since 1910! This blend sells more than 200,000 bottles every day, and remains the undisputed leader of the Ballantine’s range.

Ballantine’s Finest

Grain whiskies can be phenomenal by themselves, but the industry has largely ignored their potential, leading to them being relegated to a secondary role behind Single Malts and Blended Scotch.

Blended Scotch whiskies contain malt and grain whiskies in different proportions according to the wishes of the Master Blender. There are blends like Black & White Whisky that contain a higher proportion of grain whiskies, whereas there are some delightful malty blends in the market as well.

Are there any other types of whiskies?

There are two kinds of less prevalent blends in the Scotch whisky industry – Blended Malt and Blended Grain. The former is a blend of two or more Single Malt whiskies, whereas the Blended Grain contains only two or more Grain whiskies.

Chivas Regal Ultis

These types of whisky have been mostly neglected by the industry, and only a few brands still make them. Compass Box is one popular brand of Blended Grain whisky, whereas Chivas Regal recently released their first ever Blended Malt, the Ultis. It is a super-premium luxury whisky blended with five rare single malts to honour the five Master Blenders who plied their trade at Chivas.

Monkey Shoulder is another Blended Malt whisky brand to have gained some traction in recent years. It has been known to do well with cocktails and mixers, and contains single malts from Balvenie, Kininvie and Glenfiddich.

So now that we are aware of all the differences between Malt and Grain whiskies, how they’re made, and what they are used for, will you be bringing out this newfound knowledge as casual party conversation?