Last Updated on August 22, 2023 by Lydia Martin
Whisky is one of the most popular beverages in the world. While some people think it’s as simple as other distilled spirits, whiskies can be more confusing because of its specification, regulations, and definitions.
Let’s go over the specifics behind the bottle designations and end the confusion with single malt vs double malt.
Single Malt & Double Malt Whiskies Compared
Single malt has a legal definition, while double malt does not. Single malt comes from one distillery and is made using one type of grain.
Double malts are made from a blend of different single malts from two distilleries. It is more of a marketing term than a whisky term.
Single malt whiskies are more expensive than double malt since they are the essence of a distillery.
Technically, there’s no such thing as double malt, the actual term for double malt is blended malt whisky, as it is a blend of two single malts from more than one distillery.
History & Origin
There’s a big difference between single malt and double malt in terms of history and origin.
Single malts were popular from the 1820s, and at first, it was promoted as straight malt, then pure malt, before it ended with single malt.
Double malt is a blend of two single malts from two distilleries. The blending was pioneered in Scotland in the 1860s, and by mixing malt whiskies, they created lighter and sweeter whiskies.
It is more of a marketing term because it is a combination of two single malts.
How It’s Made
Single malt Scotch whisky undergoes twice distillation in copper pot stills. They work with at least two series-connected pot stills to wash 20%-25% of alcohol.
It is then transferred into a second pot still to be distilled for the desired alcohol content.
The distillation process of double malt Scotch is similar to single malts. However, it has to come from two distilleries instead of one.
It has a different taste because, aside from its distillation process, it is a blend of whiskies.
Distillation is another important step in making whiskies.
Whether it is a Scotch, rye, or bourbon whiskey, the fermented grains should undergo a distillation process for the pure drink and increased ABV.
Single malt Scotch whiskies undergo blending because the “single” terminology refers to the single distillery, not the blend.
Single malts can contain whiskies from different barrels. However, it should be made by the same distillery.
Double malt or blended whisky is a blend of single malts from two different distilleries. It is a combination of vatted malt from two whiskey makers.
Blending is a necessary step to achieve the consistent taste of the spirit.
Both types of spirit undergo blending, whether a single or double malt.
Like other distilled alcoholic spirits, Canadian whisky, Irish whiskey, and bourbons, single and double malts should undergo an aging process.
Both whisky types should be aged in oak casks and carry the age of the youngest single malt used in the blend.
Single malts should be aged for at least three years in oak barrels to develop flavor, color, and character. Also, they must be aged in Scotland for a bottle to be labeled a Scotch.
There are no legal definitions for double malts, so no aging requirements are stated. However, since it is made from a blend of single malts, the blended Scotch whisky is aged for at least three years.
Single malt has strict rules when it comes to the main ingredients.
Distillers make whisky from other grains like corn, wheat, rye, and barley, but single malts are made from malted barley only. It has to follow the single-grain requirement to be labeled as one.
Blended or vatted malts is the closest term to “double malt.” A distillery can make it from fermented grain mash (corn, ryes, or barley).
They can also make it from two or more malts (malted and unmalted barley) since it does not have any restriction, unlike other grain whiskies.
Generally speaking, aging is an important process when making whisky because it gives flavor and color to alcoholic beverages .
Single malt should be aged for at least three years; the age statement that reflects on the bottle is the youngest liquor inside.
Double malt Scotch can carry an age, even though it is not required (because it does not have a legal definition). Manufacturers use the youngest single malt age statement in the bottled blended whisky.
Some whiskies contain added caramel coloring to adjust the color of the aged drink.
Unlike other whiskey types, Scotch Whisky Association is lenient with adding coloring to the Scotches to give consistent quality in every bottle.
How It’s Served
There is a slight difference between single malt and double malt regarding how it’s served.
Most whiskey connoisseurs agree that single malt is best to enjoy neat or with a splash of water. You will taste more of its profile than with mixed drinks.
On the other hand, since double malts have a more consistent taste, you will enjoy drinking them with cocktails. It has a light taste making it easier to drink, especially with mixed drinks like sodas and fruit juices.
Palate: Fruity, strong peat flavor, spices, wood, citrus, floral, honey, caramel, rich and bold
Nose: Smoky, vanilla, honey, caramel, citrus, dried fruit, and pear cream
Color: Light to Golden Amber
Finish: Dry, long, rich, floral, citrusy, complex taste, and lingering finish
Palate: Sweet, light, honey, citrus, vanilla, caramel, floral and rich is spices
Nose: Oaky, vanilla, honey, creamy, subtle oak, and spicy heather
Color: Golden to dark amber
Finish: Crisp, clean, lingering sweetness, rich and bold
Single malts are most likely harder to find than double malts. Based on our research, single malt is one of the rare and incredibly hard-to-find whiskies in the market today.
Since a lone distillery should make it, sometimes, the distillery finds it hard to keep up with the demand.
Double malts or blended malt Scotch whisky is widely available in the market today. While it is a marketing terminology, many whiskey makers produce this type of whisky because it is cheaper, lighter, and popular with many whiskey enthusiasts.
Price & Value
Single malt is usually more expensive than other whiskeys . It is highly prized like a single barrel because of its rarity and valuable commodity. Aside from the ingredients, the exclusivity of a lone distillery makes it more expensive.
However, double malts can sometimes be expensive, especially with the collaboration of two famous brands. When two distillers collaborate to make scotch, the terminology “double malt” is usually used in making the product.
There are cases where double malts can be more expensive, but that can depend on the brand and age of the spirit. The brand, rarity, and age somehow dictate the pricing of a bottle.
Are all single-malt whisky Scotch?
No, not all single malt is Scotch . However, it must be made in Scotland to be considered a single-malt Scotch whisky. A distillery can make it anywhere worldwide, but other requirements vary on the whiskey styles.
It is widely produced in different locations, including Japan, Ireland, and Canada. It can be considered a single malt if it follows the requirement of using one type of grain and a lone distillery.
What is so special about single malt whisky?
The flavor advantage over the grain whiskey and the wide diversity of flavor makes the single malt so special. Since it has to be made by a lone distillery, it becomes the essence of the distillery.
The great taste indeed boils down to personal preference, but single malt has a great reputation for being a higher quality spirit, making it even more special.
Which is smoother, single malt or double malt whisky?
Single malt is smoother than double malt. We love to drink whisky neat, and when we tried both whiskies, we noticed that single malt has a smoother and fruitier flavor profile than double malts.
Single malts have a mellow profile, and since it is made using one type of grain, it is not overly complex, unlike other grain whiskies.
Single malt is better than double malt, especially on flavor characteristics and how they meticulously made it. Unlike single malts, double malts do not have legal definitions, so it would be hard to say if you are getting premium whisky.
Single malt is made from a one-grain type and must be made by a lone distillery. Unlike different styles of whiskey, single whisky should be made from only malted barley. It is relatively expensive but is fruitier and softer on the palate.
On the other hand, double malt is made from a blend of single malts from two distilleries. It has a nice finish and amazing flavors.