Blended whiskies may not have the cachet of single malt scotches but when it comes to branding – blended whiskies are simply more popular in the United States. I suspect part of it has to do with marketing… you can’t open a men’s magazine without finding an advertisement for Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker. You might see an ad for Glenlivet, Macallan, or Glenfiddich but you likely won’t see one for Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, or Laphroaig. Or perhaps it’s the pronunciation… it’ll take you ten tries on Bruichladdich (hint) and even then you probably won’t be able to get it without some help!
So it’s not surprising that the biggest sellers are often blends with a lower price point and an easier to say name. In fact, of the top 20 spirits (the list is Drinks International’s Millionaires Club list – a ranking of spirits that sold over a million cases), the highest whisky is Johnnie Walker at 18 million cases a year.
There isn’t a single other Scotch whisky in the top thirty. The next Scotch whisky is Ballantine’s at 34 followed by Grant’s at 40. Indian whisky is featured a staggering six times in the top twenty while Jack Daniel’s appears in 19th place.
Only last year did a single malt top a million cases and that was Glenfiddich. Glenlivet took 2nd in the Single Malts with 718,000 cases for 2010-2011.
While I joke that the popularity of blended whisky is in part due to pronunciation, I do think that cost becomes a factor. Most blends are cheaper, by volume, than single malts. This is for a variety of reasons but one big one is that when you have a single malt, you know that it’s produced at one distillery using only malted barley in their copper stills. With blends, you blend whisky from a variety of places to get the profile you want. This can include grain whisky, which is cheaper to produce.
That said, is blended whisky better or worse than single malts? I personally believe that you get what you pay for and sometimes that will depend on the mood you’re in. Sometimes you want to drive a sports coupe and other times you don’t mind rolling around in your sedan. There is really no better or worse, just what is a good fit and what isn’t.