Single Malt vs. Double Malt: What Is the Difference

The world of whiskies is extraordinary, and even the tiniest of the details hold great importance for a nuanced drinker. Not only that, but the jargon associated with specific brand names and terms is also something perhaps only avid drinkers or aficionados may know.

In this intricate universe of this fine spirit (which I also think brings its appeal and charm), one of the common questions is about single malt vs. double malt.

To sincerely understand the differences between the two, let’s reverse engineer our way into one other definition first.

What Is a Malt Whisky?

First things first; we need to know what a malt is. At the end of the day, a malt is a dry germinated grain. The process of converting a raw grain into a germinated one is called malting.

When it comes to single malts, principally, barley malt is used as the base grain.

In conclusion, a malt whisky is one that is made from a malted grain. However, the actual laws governing the definitions vary slightly by region.

So, What the Heck Is a Single Malt Whisky?

As the name suggests, a single malt whisky contains only one grain (in most cases barley — but it can contain others too, such as rye). However, what really seals the deal here is that it’s only made in one distillery. Note that the definition is more as a result of this, versus to only using a single grain

In common usage, a single malt is usually associated with a single malt scotch whisky — albeit, they are, in fact, produced in other countries as well.

The Core Requirements for a Whisky to Be Called a “Single Malt Scotch Whisky”

  1. Has to be made in Scotland (duh).
  2. Needs to come from one distillery only.
  3. Primarily uses barley as the main grain.
  4. Matured in oak casks for at least three years.

What Is a Double Malt?

A Double malt is actually a misnomer. There is no such thing as a double malt. The technical term that encompasses this goes by the name of vatted malts (more below).

What Is a Vatted Malt?

Also recognized as a blended malt, a vatted malt whisky is a combination of different single malts from different distilleries. In fact, based on my research, it looks like Vatted is a deprecated term now, and in everyday vocabulary, folks call it a blended whisky. Perhaps, the most renowned example of a blended whisky is the Johnnie Walker series — primarily, the ‘Black Label.’

Johnnie Walker Black Label
The Johnnie Walker Black Label is perhaps the most recognized example of a blended whisky.
Photo Credit: Brian Jones

Typically, no one lays out the details of what exactly is used in the blend. Also, blended whiskies are usually cheaper in comparison to single malts because the latter are more refined and nuanced and therefore, run on the higher spectrum of the price range.

With all of this stated, sometimes, some sellers like to use the term double malt when they know their blend is only from two distilleries.

How Old Are You?

Most blended whiskies do not have an age statement as to how old the bottle is; however, when they do, note that the age statement refers to the youngest/minimum age of the spirit used in the blend.

Notwithstanding this information, spirits derived from Canada, Scotland, and Ireland have to adhere to the standard of aging their whisk(e)y for at least 3 years — although in reality, it’s often more.

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As we learned, technically speaking, there is no such thing as a double malt because, as an outcome, it’s a blend. Nonetheless, it’s a term that is fondly used for marketing purposes due to which, it also has taken its place with the general public.

In contrast, a single malt whisky is the one that’s produced from just one distillery.

Note: As long as the general context of this fine spirit allowed, I’ve decided to go with the spelling and variations of the word “whisky.” Otherwise, I’ve ensured to use the proper one as the brand and region would demand, for example, the Johnnie Walker.