Single Grain vs Single Malt explained…
A very common question that we get asked when talking about our whiskies is ‘what is the difference between single malt and single grain whisky?’
Great question. Grain whisky in its current form has been around since 1830 and grains would have been distilled informally before this. Single grain recently began somewhat of a revival, kicked off by the likes of David Beckham and Haig Club and now racing to new heights.
While the first mention of malt whisky was found from 1494, grain has long been an important part of the whole industry. Actually grain whisky, and the blends it often formed the base of, was once the go-to whisky drink before Glenfiddich took the single malt to the United States in the 1963.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; we first need to understand the basics that answer what really is the difference between single malt and single grain whisky?
Single: one distillery.
The ‘single’ refers to the number of distilleries the whisky in the bottle is from.
Single cask means the whisky comes from just one cask but single malt simply means that the whisky is made at one distillery but is generally a vatting of multiple casks – unless stated otherwise – combined after maturation for bottling.
Malt: this refers to the ingredients of the whisky. Single malt Scotch whisky must contain only malted barley. That’s it. Peated or unpeated, it must be 100% malted barley.
Single: one distillery. Again – the ‘single’ here simply means the contents of your bottle is distilled at one distillery, even though it comes from multiple casks.
Grain: While malt whisky must be 100% malted barley, grain whisky can be made from any cereal grain. In Scotland this includes small amounts of malted barley in combination with another grain.
In the case of our Borders Highland single grain whisky our combination is 50% malted barley and 50% wheat.
SINGLE GRAIN FLAVOUR
It’s rare for a grain whisky to be so high in malt content by nature. In fact Borders is the only one that we know of with this half and half ratio.
Barley is such a flavoursome grain, that when used in such a high ration, it gives our Borders grain more body. Conventionally grain whisky has lighter flavour components, often with sweeter notes as well, and is generally Bourbon casks matured.
SINGLE GRAIN PRODUCTION
There’s also a difference in the way grain whisky is distilled compared to malt whisky. Single malts are produced on the traditional picturesque copper pot stills in batch processes.
Today’s grain whisky however is – most often – distilled in a different kind of still known as a column or Coffey still (no you don’t get hints of café noir, it’s named after its creator Aeneas Coffey, who used to be an excise man, and arguably revolutionised modern spirits production).
We could write a whole book about Coffey Distillation, but here’s nutshell explanation according to our own Chris Hoban:
You have two columns filled with copper plates. At different points throughout the columns, the liquid is heated and cooled. This causes a continuous distillation spirit flow. If you’ve ever studied an oil refinery it works something like this, although you are getting 94% abv grain spirit at the end of the process (as opposed to around 72% for malt whisky on a pot still). It still has flavour, but it is cleaner and softer than malt. A grain distillery can produce 10 bottles per second, which is significantly more than pot still distillation.