Whiskey lovers often have very specific things they love about their whiskey of choice. Since there are so many categories of whiskey, choices can intersect and get super specific. Even if you don’t want to develop a very narrow list of favorites, you have to acknowledge some categories, starting with the broadest. Malt and grain whiskeys are among the broadest ways to divide whiskey.
Malt whiskey is made from 100% malted barley and 0% alternative grains, while grain whiskey is made from grains like rye and wheat alongside malted barley. All whiskeys have barley content, but malt whiskey is one that is made from pure malt.
In this article, you will learn more specific information about malt whiskey and grain whiskey, alongside the drinks’ pros and cons. By the end of this post, you will know which whiskey you should buy. So, let’s get started with an overview of malt whiskey.
Malt Whiskey: A Brief Overview
Malt whiskey is whiskey made exclusively from malted barley. Given that malt is expensive compared to other grains that can be used in liquor production, malt whiskey is considered a premium option. The assumption of high quality comes from the whiskey’s purity as well as its price tag.
Barley malt is mashed, fermented, distilled, and aged to produce malt whiskey. No other grain can enter the process at any point for the whiskey to be considered a malt whiskey. Even a 5% portion of other grain before or after the distillation process can disqualify the distillate from being considered a malt whiskey.
So it is evident from the get-go that the process of making malt whiskey is an expensive one. It is also clear that it requires separate areas for malting and fermentation, as there is a contamination risk up until the distillate is added to barrels. The question is, why go through all that trouble to make a malt-exclusive whiskey? Because it comes with a few perks.
Pros Of Malt Whiskey
The advantages of malt whiskey aren’t objective but are based on preference and social perception. In other words, not all of the pros in this section matter to all whiskey drinkers equally. But to the people who like malt whiskey, the drink comes with the following benefits.
- Flavor advantage – While exceptions exist, malt whiskeys generally beat conventional grain whiskeys in flavor. Grain whiskeys are often blended for flavor elevation, but pure malt whiskey doesn’t need any aid to taste good.
- Social status – Malt whiskey has been seen as inherently superior to grain whiskeys for at least three generations. Millennials are the youngest generation to view malt whiskey as comparatively more prestigious than grain whiskeys. If you serve malt whiskey in a social setting or order it at a bar, you’re viewed as having a sophisticated taste.
- Lighter body – While malt whiskey isn’t light in proof or price, it sure is light on the stomach. Compared to grain whiskeys, malt whiskey is easier to consume. Still, your alcohol tolerance has the final say in this matter.
Cons Of Malt Whiskey
Malt whiskey might have subjective benefits, but it does have some objective drawbacks around price and availability. Interestingly, these serve to make it even more desirable among malt whiskey enthusiasts. Here are the drawbacks of malt whiskey.
- It is relatively expensive – Compared to grain whiskey, malt whiskey is more expensive. This also creates an assumption of quality. The price of single malts, in particular, feeds the prestige angle of malt whiskeys as well. So while you have to pay more for malt whiskey, that might be exactly what you want.
- It is harder to get – Malt whiskey is slightly rarer than grain whiskey because of the production burden on barley. Still, this advantage is not practical.
Myths Regarding Malt Whiskey
In this section, we will dismantle some myths surrounding malt whiskey so you can make an informed decision regarding its utility and quality.
Here are the common misconceptions regarding malt whiskey.
|Malt whiskey is single malt||Malt whiskey can be blended from different distilleries’ batches as long as no grain whiskey is introduced in the blend.|
|Single malt is made from a single crop of malt||Single malt whiskey is distilled at a single distillery. It can contain distillate from different crops.|
|Single malt is made in a single barrel||Single malt can contain distillate from different barrels. Single barrel whiskey is aged in a single barrel.|
|All single barrel whiskey is malt whiskey||Single barrel whiskey can be malt or grain whiskey, depending on the contents of single barrel|
|Single malt is stronger than grain whiskey||The strength of the whiskey is determined by the proof at which it is bottled and not solely by its grain sources.|
Grain Whiskey: A Brief Overview
Grain Whiskey is a whiskey that is made in part with grain other than malted barley. Grain sources in common whiskies include rye and wheat. Grains other than malt can be added for flavor, volume, or cost benefits. Since increasing production quantity and lower distilling costs are two major reasons behind the use of grain additives, grain whiskey has come to develop a reputation for inferiority.
Whiskies that don’t use malted barley alone yet taste good can be more expensive than certain single malts. This is objectively true, as single barrel bourbons command higher prices than certain malt whiskeys. Blended scotch with the right brand name can also command a higher price than pure malt whiskey.
So, grain whiskeys can lean either way. A grain whiskey can be a high-quality whiskey product developed for a heavy-bodied drinking experience, or it can be a cheap diluted whiskey made to reduce malted barley used in its making.
Pros Of Grain Whiskey
Even though grain whiskey is assumed to be inferior to malt whiskey, it can have several advantages over its malt-exclusive counterpart. Here are the benefits of buying grain whiskey.
- Grain whiskey is generally cheaper – Because grains aside from malted barley are relatively cheaper, whiskeys made from other grains alongside malt are cheaper to produce. As a result, grain whiskeys cost less than their quality equivalent in malt whiskey.
- Grain whiskey lasts longer – Grain whiskey is heavier than malt whiskey. It is, therefore, hard to overconsume, which makes a bottle of grain whiskey outlast a bottle of malt one.
- Grain whiskey has a complex flavor – Grain whiskey is usually blended, and its grain proportions have a high recipe-making potential. This results in interesting flavors and an arguably better taste.
Cons Of Whiskey
There is good grain whiskey and bad grain whiskey, and bad grain whiskey is usually worse than bad malt whiskey. Regardless of whether a grain liquor is a premium drink or a cheap diluted one, it will have the following drawbacks.
- Grain whiskey is perceived as inferior – It doesn’t matter whether your grain whiskey is a high-end liquor blended for flavor or a cheap diluted domestic distillate. If it is “grain” whiskey, many people will assume it is cheap liquor. And that matters a lot in this context because alcohol is a social drink.
- Grain whiskey can be heavy on the stomach – Grain whiskey has a heavier body and can be heavy on the body. You might feel full after a few sips, which can cut short your drinking experience with friends.
- Grain whiskey takes getting used to – Finally, you have to get used to the taste of grain whiskey. Since malt whiskey is the standard, most people get their start with malt, which can make grain whiskey taste odd. If you’ve never had whiskey before, this drawback doesn’t apply.
Myths Regarding Grain Whiskey
Grain whiskey is misunderstood by dilettantes in the liquor space. Those who have a complete understanding of whiskey and those who have no understanding of whiskey can see grain whiskey more neutrally. But the semi-informed can arrive at the wrong conclusions, which can produce unnecessary bias against grain whiskey. Here are some of the myths perpetuated by a poor understanding of grain whiskey.
|Grain whiskey is low-quality||Grain whiskey can be aged and bottled at higher quality standards than malt whiskey. It depends on the individual whiskey and not its grain source.|
|Grain whiskey is not as strong as malt whiskey||Grain whiskeys can often have a higher ABV than malt whiskey, especially when bottled at still strength.|
|Grain whiskey doesn’t contain malted barley||Grain whiskey contains other grains alongside malted barely, which also is a grain.|
|One can’t choose grain over malt whiskey||Millions of consumers prefer grain whiskey brands because of their taste. Preference for taste is subjective, and despite consistent flavor, malt whiskey isn’t universally preferred.|
Key Takeaways: Grain vs. Malt Whiskey
Malt whiskey is a whiskey that is made with malted barley as its only grain source, while grain whiskey is made from malted barley and other grains like rye. Malt whiskey is lighter, while grain whiskey is heavier.
Grain whiskey is cheaper, while malt whiskey is expensive. And Malt whiskey is considered superior, while grain whiskey is seen as lacking flavor intensity.
You should sample the best options from both whiskey categories and purchase the one you personally like.