Most liquor store whiskeys are not single barrel liquors. You might notice terms like “blended whiskey” or “premium blended” on their labels. What does it mean for a whiskey to be blended? What is it blended with? There are questions most new liquor buyers have but are hesitant to ask.
Blended whiskey is whiskey made by blending multiple whiskeys. Sometimes, the label is reserved for whiskeys blended from multiple distilleries, but generally, any whiskey not made in a single barrel is considered a blend.
In this article, you will learn about what blended whiskey is and where it stands in the price and perception hierarchy of liquors. You will also discover the different reasons behind whiskey blending alongside the best practices for buying blended whiskey.
Is Blended Whiskey Low Quality?
Blended Whiskey is erroneously assumed to have low quality when its actual quality depends on the ingredients used in its making. Single-barrel purists often assert that blended whiskey is inferior, but that is a subjective take.
Whiskey is blended for many reasons, and dilution of quality is the least common rationale for blending. Most often, whiskey is blended to improve its taste and texture, making it contingent on the individual whiskeys used in its making.
If high-quality whiskeys are used in a blended whiskey, then it is a high-quality product. It might even be considered a premium drink. However, if even one of the whiskeys used is objectively a subpar one, then the overall quality of the blend comes into question.
The difference between a premium blend and a poor one is usually evident from the price of the whiskey. In fact, price is such an easy determinant of quality in liquors that people assume blended whiskeys are inferior simply because they cost less than single barrel varieties.
You can understand the price hierarchy of blended whiskey from the following table.
|Whiskey Type||Cost Hierarchy|
|Premium Single Barrel Whiskey||Highest|
|Standard Single Barrel Whiskey||High|
|Premium Single Malt Blended Whiskey||Median|
|Standard Blended Whiskey||Low|
|Cheap Blended Whiskey||Lowest|
Since the cheapest types of whiskey are all blended, it is often assumed that all blended whiskeys are cheap.
Is Blended Whiskey Cheap?
Blended whiskey is usually cheaper than its top-shelf single barrel equivalent. However, the broadest supply of whiskey is usually blended, so the cost assumption cannot be attributed to the entire category.
Instead of asserting that blended whiskey is cheap, one can say that single barrel whiskey is expensive. Single barrel whiskey makes up a small portion of the whiskey market, making its price range the exception.
Blended whiskey covers the median and the lower-end price points of the whiskey market. Whiskeys blended in-house for taste reasons can command a regular market price, while ones blended for dilution are usually cheap.
Why Is Whiskey Blended? (5 Reasons)
At this point, you understand that some whiskey is blended for dilution. If you listen to whiskey drinkers who are passionate about single barrel liquor, you might begin to believe that dilution is the only rationale behind blended whiskey. There are, in fact, five reasons behind whiskey blending.
Whiskey is blended for taste, consistency, positioning, dilution, and availability. Why a whiskey product is blended determines the price at which it sells.
Taste and positioning blends command the highest price, while dilution and availability blends are the cheapest. Let’s look at what each reason entails.
1. Blending For Taste
The history of whiskey blending dates back to the 1800s, with Andrew Usher being the first to blend scotch whiskey for taste. The blend became so popular that it raised scotch’s profile in England and then the whole world.
So taste is the primary reason behind whiskey blending. Even though single barrel aficionados like to assert that whiskey is blended for economic reasons, taste improvement remains the most common reason. As whiskey ages, it becomes hard for it to maintain its flavor. Some notes completely vanish after the 4-year mark.
If blending isn’t employed as a taste enhancement measure, most liquor store whiskeys would be 2 to 4 years old. Whiskeys with different age profiles are blended so notes of high maturation as well as the freshness of the young whiskeys, can be brought together for a holistic flavor.
2. Blending For Consistency
Some whiskey producers start off as relabelling operations and transition to producing their own whiskey. If you get white label whiskey (unbranded) and slap your own label over it, your name gets associated with the taste of the white label.
Once you start producing your own whiskey, you cannot make an abrupt switch to it, as the change of taste can lead to customer flight. So, you can begin blending your own whiskey with the white label one and gradually get your regular consumers acquainted with your whiskey.
Consistency-driven blends are often made by distilleries that start off as blending operations for various third-party whiskies or as repackaging operations for white label whiskey. Whitelabel whiskey is produced by large distilleries and sold to other distilleries without any branding. It can be bottled and sold directly or can be used as an ingredient in a more complex blend.
3. Blending For Positioning
Complex blends are almost always produced for marketing reasons. Whiskey makers do not want their respective liquors to be interchangeable. When making single barrel whiskey, it is harder to produce a signature flavor that cannot be replicated.
That’s why distilleries use a combination of different age profiles, altitudes, and brain compositions to produce a whiskey that other facilities cannot replicate. It helps position the specific blend as unique to its producer.
4. Blending For Dilution
Blending for positioning helps make the end product more expensive. Blending for dilution helps bring the cost of producing whiskey down. Even single barrel whiskey is diluted with water to bring its proof down. But that’s not what most people mean by “blending for dilution.” The term refers to blending different whiskeys to produce a cheaper end product.
What makes matters worst is that the blended whiskey is identified with the oldest whiskey involved in the blend. Suppose a blended whiskey contains 90% four-year-old whiskey and 10% 20-year-old whiskey. It will be referred to as a 20-year-old blend. This helps create a perception of maturity and value.
This practice gives a bad name to blended whiskeys in general. A whiskey that is blended for cost-cutting is outed by its price. People tend to stay clear of cheap blended whiskey because they suspect it to be blended for dilution.
5. Blending For Availability
The final reason whiskey is blended is to bring rare flavor elements to a wider range of products. Blending for availability is like blending for taste and for cost. It has a two-pronged rationale. Suppose you have aged a barrel of whiskey for 20 years with a perfectly-maintained flavor. You know that an appropriately preserved whiskey this old is very rare.
You can bottle it as a single barrel product and command a steep price per unit, or you could use it as a flavoring agent for a much larger number of products, bringing all of their value up.
Many distilleries choose the latter option and blend small servings of their rare whiskey with easier-to-distill batches to produce a large volume of relatively high-value whiskey.
Reading The Age Of Blended Whiskey
When you buy a 10-year-old blended whiskey, you get a blend made from multiple whiskeys in which at least one whiskey is 10 years old. That whiskey is also the oldest one in the blend.
Blended whiskey’s label age refers to the oldest whiskey used in its making. To get the complete details, you should look at the age profile details. Unless a distillery is blending for cost or has a secret recipe, it will list the percentage and the age of different whiskeys used in the blend.
How To Choose Blended Whiskey (6 Tips)
Knowing the age of the whiskeys in the blend might help you pick or pass the product. But to get the best possible blended whiskey, you should know how to judge the liquor for its taste, texture, aroma, and value.
To choose blended whiskey, you should shortlist the ones with the best reviews, sample them yourself, and decide, based on your taste assessment and budget, which one you would like to buy more often.
Blended whiskey is not a prestige purchase, which is a good thing, albeit in a roundabout way. Many people buy single barrel whiskey not because they like it but because it is perceived as a higher-status beverage. Most people who buy blended whiskey either like its taste or its price.
When buying blended whiskey, you have the freedom to shop based on what you like and not what your friends like. That said, plenty of aspects are universally liked, and using them as guidelines can help you select a decent-tasting blended whiskey. Here are the best practices for selecting a blended whiskey.
1. Start With The Whiskey Producer
When you’re looking to buy a high-quality blended whiskey, nothing is more important than the producer. The production facility’s location can reveal a lot about the liquor’s taste and proof, while the reputation of its brand can also provide valuable insights regarding its quality and consistency.
2. Know Your Burn Tolerance
After you’ve shortlisted a few distilleries, you must narrow your whiskey choice by ABV. For this, it is crucial that you understand your burn tolerance and your burn preference. Consider the strongest whiskey you’ve had that you have found palatable. Note down its proof and divide it by half.
That’s the alcohol-by-volume ratio you can stomach. Next, check the proof and ABV of any liquor that you like. Once you have your preferred ABV and the ABV you can tolerate, you have a range of proof to consider when buying a blended whiskey.
3. Know Your Budget
Having selected ideal distilleries and narrowed down a range of proof and ABV, you can start filtering out options that are out of your budget. Here, you should consider the price of recurring purchases and not the one-off price. Most people can afford top-shelf whiskey at a 100% to 500% markup at least once. But your choice must be one you can comfortably repeat. So narrowing the list based on your budget is highly recommended.
4. Consider The Reviews
If the previous step has brought you down to three whiskeys, you can skip to the sampling stage. But if you have more than five whiskeys on your shortlist, you can start considering external reviews to establish which ones have the highest percentage of positive reviews.
You might be tempted to compare the total number of positive reviews, but different whiskeys have different review volumes. The best way to compare them without being biased towards the ones with more reviews is to see what percentage of the reviews are positive. This is a better indicator of how likely you are to be impressed or disappointed by a potential purchase.
5. Sample The Options
After narrowing your list of options down to 3 – 5 options, it is time to sample the options. Sampling blended whiskey shouldn’t be as complicated as some self-proclaimed connoisseurs would have you believe. You simply need to taste the whiskey while taking twice the time you usually take to have your drink. This allows you to pay attention to the flavor, texture, and scent of the liquor
6. Buy What You Like!
This is the final step and has the greatest significance. No matter what shortlisting method you use, your final choice must be based solely on what you like. Do not let anyone influence this decision.
Buy the whiskey that you like and forget about how it might be perceived and what reviewers have said about it.
Any whiskey is a good whiskey as long as the one drinking it is satisfied with it.
Conclusion: Does Blended Whiskey Deserve a Spot on Your Shelf?
Whiskey made from multiple barrels/vattings is called blended whiskey. The label is emphasized when the whiskey contents are sourced from different distilleries. Blends made in-house are often sheltered by the “single malt” label. But this sheltering isn’t required as blended whiskey is not inferior.
Whiskey is as good as what goes in it, and many distilleries have proved that high-quality ingredients can go into blended whiskey.