Spirits & Liqueurs Scotch

Blended Scotch Gets a Rebrand. Are Whisky Fans Interested?

A new wave of brands wants drinkers to take blended scotch as seriously as single malt.

New school of blended scotch

Liquor.com / Laura Sant

A new school of blended scotch has been trying to win over everyone from diehard whisky fans to casual drinkers who may know the term “single malt” but struggle to define it.

These blends are relative newcomers to the centuries-old scotch business. Among them, Compass Box debuted in 2000, Monkey Shoulder in 2005, Sia Scotch Whisky in 2013, and Woven Whisky in 2021. They’ve aimed to differentiate themselves through ingredient transparency and creative, modern packaging that makes it clear you’re not drinking Johnnie Walker, J&B, Chivas, Dewar’s, or any other blended scotch that predates the Clinton administration. 

Despite the new guard’s efforts, however, it’s still those timeworn blended scotches that account for the vast majority of sales. To succeed, new-wave blends must establish themselves in concert with and comparison to not only each other but also legacy blended scotch brands and often the wider world of craft whiskey. 

Made for Mixing

One factor these new blends are leveraging is approachability.

“Many of the things that people find challenging about drinking single malt—they feel guilty mixing it, they don’t want to add ice, god forbid you should make a cocktail with your single malt, the earth would split open and swallow you—is exactly what blends were made for,” says Noah Rothbaum, the associate editor of The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails and the head of cocktails and spirits at Flaviar. 

Cocktails are a useful point of entry for any spirit, helping to fuel the rise in popularity of spirits like mezcal or rye whiskey over the past decade. To that end, Monkey Shoulder positions itself as “made for mixing,” and Sia and Compass Box’s websites include suggested cocktail recipes.

The flavor profiles of blends can also be more easily adjusted to appeal to various palates. This is especially useful if you’re hoping to attract new people to the category.

“I tasted thousands of people on different whiskies over the years, and I was looking to find the flavor profile that is attractive to someone who hasn’t always been a scotch drinker,” says Carin Luna-Ostaseski, the founder of Sia Scotch Whisky. “My goal is to introduce a whole new category of people to this spirit I love so much.”

She found that a lot of people who were new to scotch were turned off by heavy, smoky aromas, so Sia’s blenders tweaked accordingly. All Sia scotch is made with malt from Teaninich, a 200-year-old Highlands distillery, but the company declines to share its exact ratios of ingredients. “They’re constantly being adjusted for brand consistency,” says Luna-Ostaseski. 

More is More (Information)

Other new-school blends adopt a different approach. While Woven doesn’t disclose the names of its source distilleries or ingredients, it does publish the total number of components that make up each blend, alongside the percentage of each, the blending date, and the duration of marrying time. 

Compass Box takes transparency efforts a step further. Each expression is accompanied by a flavor wheel that outlines the specific ingredients and exact percentages for each of the distilleries in its blend and what flavor profile it hoped each would contribute. The company sources ingredients from across Scotland, says the company's founder, John Glaser, and informs fans when the balance in blends change via the recipes on its website. 

“In a scotch world where so many brands like to tell you their whisky hasn’t varied in a hundred years, I like to say, ‘We reserve the right to improve our products,’” says Glaser. “If we’re making a core range whisky, like the Peat Monster or Orchard House, we’re looking to source the same whiskies each vatting or whiskies with very similar flavor profiles. Hedonism is a little different. Here, we are pursuing a very specific and, we feel, delicious grain whisky flavor profile. So, we will source from a number of different grain distilleries to get the profiles we’re looking for, and it varies batch by batch.”

“They give provenance to the blend,” Khalid Williams, a bartender and writer and the founder of beverage industry consultancy The Barrel Age, says of Compass Box’s approach.

Transparency and storytelling are invaluable marketing tactics, especially if you want to reach people who have come of age with direct digital connections to politicians, celebrities, and beyond, says Williams. “Consumers can hear what brands are saying and how they’re saying it.” 

It’s also an opportunity for education. The contents of a single malt are straightforward, but communicating how a quality blend is made requires nuance. “Blends take more explaining because they’re an entire orchestra,” says Rothbaum. “Single malts are a soloist.”

The art and science behind skilled blending is increasingly of interest to whisky enthusiasts who enjoy swapping stats on age statements or cooperage programs, says Bill Thomas, the owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. It gives them something new to explore. “The average whisky drinker wants to geek out about what they’re drinking, even if it’s an internal dialogue they have with themself, like, ‘This is why I chose it,’” he says.

Is Anyone Buying?

Jack Rose has nearly 3,000 bottles of whiskey on its shelves, more than 600 of which are Scotch whisky, though very few are blends. “The demand for blended scotch just isn’t there,” he says. 

Thomas chalks it up to years of bad blends diluting the category, which caused many drinkers to regard all blended scotches as inferior. Others say the category suffers from unfair stereotypes of the people who drink legacy blends. 

“Dewar’s can be almost a dirty word to a bartender,” says Williams. “It can remind you of a certain profile of a guest, one you might not be too fond of. Someone older who thinks of themself as Don Draper, just standing in your service bar demanding Dewar’s on the rocks with a twist.”

The success of new-wave blends is “a much bigger swing” than other resurgent spirits categories like tequila, says Rothbaum. It requires dismantling preconceptions about what blended scotch is and isn’t, what single malt is and isn’t, and who these and other whiskies are for.

It’s competitive terrain. According to IbisWorld data, since 2017 whiskey and bourbon distilleries have grown 5.3% in the U.S., outpacing the national economy. Some predict the global whiskey market will gain another 5%, or $28.67 billion, through 2025. In addition to the growing number of whiskey producers, new-wave blended scotch is also competing with growing consumer interest in other categories, like tequila and cognac.

Give Peat a Chance

These aren’t insurmountable hurdles, Rothbaum says. He notes the 21st century renaissance of American rye and, more recently, Irish whiskey. 

These are compelling comparisons. Both categories grew in sales and prestige as they faced challenges similar to those of blended scotch. Rye whiskey producers had to educate consumers without alienating them, and craft Irish whiskey reckoned with Jameson, another global powerhouse with passionate fans and detractors worldwide. Meanwhile, Japanese whisky, an industry somewhat modeled on scotch, has had multiple rebirths in the U.S. market in the last decade.

To that end, Rothbaum calls blended scotch a “sleeping giant.” 

“If we learned anything from Irish whiskey and Japanese whisky, [it’s that] now is the time to get into it and buy it,” says Rothbaum. “We’re running out of categories to be brought back. This is one of the last ones hiding in plain sight.”