For the last several decades single malt Scottish whiskies have enjoyed much kinder media coverage than that of their blended cousins. Certainly whisky connoisseurs make their preference for single malts clear and often slam blended whiskies as poor imitations of the ‘original’ product. Many brewers such as Glen Garioch, Auchentoshan and Bowmore producing single malts have used this to their advantage and promote their brands on the basis of craftsmanship, purity and age. However single malts have not always enjoyed the same popularity with consumers or been regarded as the more refined and distinctive whiskies as they are now.
Only in the 1970s did brewers turn their attention to single malts, before then the Scottish whisky market was dominated by brands of what was then referred to as ‘vatted single malt’. Many blenders brushed aside the growing demand for single malts, dismissing it as a passing fad for what they considered a niche product. Despite this however single malts would not only continue to rise in popularity but they are credited by marketers all over as having saved the whisky industry form disaster as brands of tequila, rum and vodka began eating into its market share. Since then the number of single malts produced in Scotland has risen from only 30 to well over 200, helped on by the 2009 regulation requiring ‘vatted single malts’ to be named as ‘blended malts’. However despite this blended whiskies still account for 90% of the Scottish whisky market, the question is how? Surely if they were such an inferior product in comparison to single malts then few people would be willing to buy them.
The fact of the matter is quite simple; because so much attention is paid to the blending stage as well as the production and casking stages, blenders are able to produce a far more consistent tasting product than single malts as they are not solely reliant on distillation and barrel ageing for their flavor. In fact blenders have been known to use up to forty different single malts in one blend to ensure that their much loved sprit retains its original characteristics. After seeing their place in the market gradually slipping away blended whisky produced responded by releasing an array of new whiskies with differing blends in order to compete, the result of which has been an overwhelming success. Jonny Walker and Grants in particular have reaped the rewards offered by the emerging international market and export to the US, China and Russia.
Despite having gone into decline in recent times blended malts are far from inferior to single malts. They are simply different and suited to a different palate, a palate which as it turns out is easier to find overseas. Although this is not to say that blended whiskies are still decreasing in their popularity back home, they are just growing in popularity elsewhere in markets where they can dominate and do not have the same level of competition with single malts as they do at home.
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