A blended whiskey (or whisky) is the product of blending different types of whiskeys and sometimes also neutral grain spirits, coloring, and flavorings. It is generally the product of mixing one or more higher-quality straight or single malt whiskies with lighter spirits (and water and other ingredients).
Ingredients and uses
Higher proof, less aged spirits are usually much less expensive to produce than straight whiskey or single malt whisky, and are thus used as the primary spirits in most blends, with the more premium whiskies and other ingredients added for flavoring.
Most cocktails and mixed drinks that contain whiskey are made using economically priced blended whiskey rather than higher priced whiskey, since the presence of the other ingredients makes the subtleties of the taste of the whiskey less critical to the overall taste of the drink. However, drinks establishments will often upsell the use of a premium top-shelf liquor in mixed drinks for better taste (and higher revenue).
Scotland and Ireland
Scotch and Irish blended whiskeys often contain light spirits that are very neutral in flavoring – as the governing regulations in those countries allow whisky distillation processes to reach up to concentrations of 94.8% alcohol by volume (ABV), which is very near the achievable limits of ordinary distillation technology. Scottish and Irish regulations also allow the addition of caramel color, regardless of whether the final product is labelled as blended or not. A mix of single malts only, without other types of whisky such as those made from grains other than malted barley, may be called a blended malt (formerly known as a vatted malt, a term no longer permitted). In Scotland, when a blended whisky includes an age statement, each individual spirit in the mix must be at least as old as the age listed.
Blended American whiskey must contain a minimum of 20% straight whiskey. Blended whiskey that contains a minimum of 51% straight whiskey of one particular grain type (i.e., rye, malt, wheat or bourbon whiskey) includes the grain type in its label description – e.g., "blended rye whiskey" or "blended bourbon whiskey". Spirits containing less than 20% straight whiskey but greater than 5% straight whiskey can be labelled "spirit whiskey".
Most Canadian whiskeys are blends. Any grain spirit aged for at least three years in Canada may be called Canadian whiskey. Regulations do not specify any distillation limit, although in practice it differs little from the Scottish and Irish limit of 94.8%, as the purity of neutral grain spirit has a practical limit of approximately that value. (A mixture of ethanol and water becomes an azeotrope at 95.6% ABV.) Canadian whiskey may contain both caramel and flavorings, as well as other distilled grain spirits.
Most blended whiskeys do not list an age, although the regulations governing its production in some countries specify a minimum aging requirement. All spirits in a Canadian, Scottish, and Irish whiskey must be aged at least three years. In the United States, the age statement only refers to the minimum age of the straight whiskey used within the blend (which must comprise at least 20% of the content). As neutral spirits are not considered whiskey, they need not be aged at all for the production of U.S. blended whiskey.