Most of us don’t understand the difference between single malt and blended whisky except that the former is considered (Mind you, just 'considered') more 'classy'. Most of us even do not know the difference between whiskey and whisky. The Scots spell it whisky and the Irish spell it whiskey, with an 'e'. Whiskey with the 'e' is also used when referring to American whiskies.
This article I found this somewhere on the net tells us much more. I thought that it is worth sharing because it contains information one may not find elsewhere.
Blended whisky, which comprises more than 80% of the market, including brands like Johnnie Walker and Dewars, is a mix of malt and grain whiskies that come from multiple distilleries. Single malt, which Scottish drinkers often refer to as malt rather than whisky (and never Scotch, like it’s known elsewhere around the world, is whisky created from malted barley at one distillery).
Single malts aren’t necessarily always better than blends, but most of Scotland’s highest regarded and most expensive whiskies are the former. Blended whiskies are smoother and easier to drink; malt can be almost overwhelming in flavour, a drink most work their way up to.
The vast majority of malt comes from three major whisky-producing regions. The Highlands (roughly the northern half of Scotland) and Speyside (in the country’s northeast) are both easily accessible from major cities, and their whiskies are relatively accessible to the malt novice, characterised by smooth, floral, often delicate flavours.
Then there’s Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, about 32km off the coast of Northern Ireland. If you’re a seasoned malt drinker, chances are you have a bottle from Islay in your liquor cabinet. If, on the other hand, you tried Scotch whisky for the first time and hated it, thought it was too smoky, or tasted like medicine or ashtrays, it probably came from Islay.
Islay whiskies get their signature flavour from smoking peat – the same vegetation that Scots have long been burning to heat their homes – in order to dry the malted barley used to create whisky. The results are polarising; some purists believe the peat takes away from the true flavour of the whisky, others become addicted, perpetually searching for something peatier.
Laphroaig, on the other end of the island and the other end of the peat spectrum, unapologetically overwhelms the palate with peat. Laphroaig’s recent “Opinions Welcome” campaign received feedback that varied from “like chewing on a well-tarred fishing boat” to “drinking the inside of an antique store”. The opinion that resonated most with me reads, “It’s like fighting a peat bog monster that is on fire, but suddenly you both pause, look in one another’s eyes and kiss.”
Wine drinkers like to talk about terroir: the environmental condition, geology and geography that give a wine (and the grapes that make it) its unique flavour. However, it takes a connoisseur of snobbish proportions to know a wine’s exact origin from a blind taste. Even an amateur drinker would probably know in one sip whether a whisky came from Islay. The whisky truly tastes like Islay, distilled – of the peat bogs that cover the island, of the smoke and fire used to stay warm during a seemingly endless winter, of the salty aftertaste of the sea.
Distilleries are near magical places, where alchemy meets science to create something far greater than the sum of its parts. They are also museums of smells, where each room has a beautiful and distinct scent.
There is a certain protocol to ordering malt in Scotland. First, please don’t call it Scotch. It’s whisky or malt. Second, unless you want to be the subject of ridicule, don’t order your malt on the rocks. Ice numbs the tongue and melts too fast. You either drink it neat or with a drop of water to open the flavours. Drinking it on the rocks is only acceptable if you’re drinking a blended whisky (or whiskey, if you please).