If you’ve seen a bottle of whiskey and scotch side by side, you might have noticed that they look alike. You might even see the label “scotch whisky” on a bottle next to a bottle that simply says “malt whiskey.” Most people who know about whiskey but are being introduced to scotch wonder if it is made from a different grain source.
So, what grain is Scotch made from? Scotch is made primarily from malted barley, though any cereal grain can be used in its mashbill. It is like traditional whiskey in its grain source and minimum proof requirements. But it is called Scotch only if it is barreled and bottled in Scotland and is aged at least three years.
In this article, you will find out more about the grain sources of scotch as well as the different requirements that whiskey has to fulfill before it can be called “scotch.” By the end of this post, you will have a far better understanding of scotch and its production and will be ready to choose a type of scotch that suits your preferences.
But first, let’s look at the initial question in depth…
Is Scotch Made From Malt?
Scotch is made from malt, at least in part, though other grains can be added to its mashbill as well. Premium scotch is usually made from malt only in one distillery. Top-shelf scotch is made in a single barrel, but many premium products are blended from different barrels as well.
There is an erroneous assumption that whiskey made from malt is called scotch while other types of whiskey are not. It is true that malt is more important in scotch whiskey than non-scotch whiskey, but the term “scotch” is not interchangeable with “scotch whisky.”
Scotch is made in Scotland, where the whiskey culture is more biased in favor of malt whiskey. In America, grain whiskeys like Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are quite popular, some even having their own prestige labels. Since such veneration for grain whiskeys is absent, most scotch has high malt content.
3 Types of Malt Scotch
Scotch can be broadly divided into malt scotch and grain scotch. But even within malt scotch, there is significant variation. Let’s look at the different types of malt scotch.
1. Single Malt Scotch
Single Malt Scotch is a whiskey made in a single distillery. Its mashbill might not come from a single crop of malt, but every drop of scotch in the single malt scotch bottle has to originate from a single facility. All the barreling, aging, and bottling process has to happen in one distillery for the product to be labeled as single scotch.
Single Scotch is considered valuable because the in-house nature of the blend makes the liquor far more consistent. Blended malts can be tweaked at different stops leading to a drop in proof and flavor.
2. Single Barrel Malt Scotch
Single barrel scotch is one of the highest-quality scotch categories. It is aged and distilled from a single barrel, ensuring consistency in flavor and a mature texture. It is appreciated by aficionados and whiskey purists who like to minimize blending and dilution to get as close to the organic spirit as they can.
3. Blended Malt Scotch
Blended malt scotch is scotch that is made from multiple vattings. It is a blend of whiskeys aged in different barrels. Usually, the drink is blended from different barrels to produce a more flavorful or economical product.
Depending on whether the scotch blend is produced for budget reasons or for taste enhancement, the drink can be seen as subpar or premium. Among Scots, even a blended scotch can get a pass for not being a single barrel product as long as it is made from malt only.
3 Types of Grain Scotch
While the Scottish whiskey tradition has a positive bias towards malted barley, it is not the only grain used in making all types of scotch. Close to 50% of scotch is made from grains other than barley, though most of it is exported to countries with a greater market for grain whiskey. Let’s look at a few types of grain scotch you might find in your local liquor store.
1. Single Grain Scotch
Single grain scotch is scotch made at a single facility. It is the single malt equivalent of a grain scotch. The term does not refer to scotch made from a single grain type, as that is not possible. A grain scotch needs to have malted barley and one other grain type. So “single grain” doesn’t refer to the mashbill but the place where the scotch is barrelled, aged and blended.
2. Blended Grain Scotch
Blended grain scotch refers to scotch made from multiple batches of grain scotch. Again, the term “Blended grain” doesn’t refer to the blending of different grain types in the mashbill. As covered earlier, all-grain scotch features a blend of malted barley with one or more grain types.
3. Single Barrel Grain Scotch
Finally, the most premium option in grain scotch is the single barrel one. Just like with single barrel malt scotch, this liquor is made from a single cask. The contents are added and aged in a single barrel up until the yield is ready for distillation.
Again, this method of scotch distillation does not lead to inherently superior scotch, but the product of a single barrel is often admired for its consistency and is perceived to have higher quality.
The 7 Standards Of Scotch Making
Now that you know that there is a type of scotch for every type of standard whiskey, you might be wondering what sets scotch apart. After all, there are single malt, blended, single barrel, and single grain iterations of scotch and whiskey. If there is no type of scotch for which there isn’t a type of whiskey, does that mean scotch and whiskey are the same?
Scotch and whiskey are not exactly interchangeable because scotch is a type of whiskey. There are other types of whiskey, like bourbon, which wouldn’t be labeled as scotch. For a whiskey to be considered a scotch, it has to fulfill the following criteria:
- Must be made in Scotland
- Must be made from cereals, yeast, and water
- Aged in oak barrels for three years
- Bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV (80 proof)
- Distilled at now higher than 94.8% ABV
- Should not be sweetened before bottling
- No color should be added before bottling
The most significant determinants of what makes a liquor scotch are whether it is barreled and aged in Scotland and whether it is made solely from grain, water, and yeast. Other aspects are distillation and aging specific but aren’t unheard of in regular whiskey production.
For instance, the 80-proof minimum for such spirits is as much an American standard as it is a Scottish one. So keeping in mind the standards that set scotch apart, one can infer a few advantages of this spirit over traditional American whiskey.
The advantages of scotch over standard whiskey are:
- Woody and grainy aroma – Because of how scotch is barreled, it acquires earthy and woodsy notes along the way.
- Pure and additive-free – Scotch cannot contain additives like flavorants and color. It is, therefore, pure by definition.
- Flavorful yet high-proof – Scotch is undoubtedly flavorful. The maximum allowed proof ensures that the alcohol in the drink doesn’t overpower its flavor.
- Mature and well-distilled – The three-year aging requirement ensures that scotch whiskey is aged appropriately, even in its youngest iteration. The distillation process of scotch is also refined for high-quality yield.
- Perceived as sophisticated – This is a social advantage. Scotch is viewed as a premium drink regardless of its proof and label.
Grain Scotch Vs. Malt Scotch: Which One Should You Buy?
We have established that Scotch can be made from a mashbill of 100% malted barley and that it can also be made from other grains like rye, wheat, and corn. Whiskey made from pure malted barley is called Malt Scotch, while mixed-grain scotch is called Grain Scotch regardless of the specific grain proportions.
You should buy malt scotch if you appreciate flavor intensity and should get grain scotch if you want a spirit that is more filling. Grain scotch is heavier than malt scotch, and malt scotch is usually more flavorful.
Ultimately, the taste of scotch can change from bottle to bottle. It is possible for a blended grain scotch to taste better than a single barrel malt scotch. Taste variation can be attributed to the subjectivity of preferences and the individual distillation and bottling conditions.
Blended whiskeys have more room for recipe tweaking, which can lead to improved taste. Different distilleries have their ways of staying within the requirements of the scotch label while developing their own signature taste profiles. New consumers should sample at least one-grain scotch and one malt scotch before choosing a type.
Recap: What Grain(s) are Scotch Whisky Made From?
Scotch is made from malted barley and other grains like rye, wheat, and corn.
If a scotch features barley as its only grain source, it is called “malt scotch.” And if it contains other grains, it is called “grain scotch.” Both types of scotch whiskeys contain malted barley, though.
More importantly, both types are available in single barrel, single malt/grain, and blended scotch varieties.