Blended scotch's mildness and mixability doesn't means it's weaker or inferior to single malts, it's just a different style. They can be excellent sipping scotches in their own right - like many of the Compass Box blends for example. I particularly like Dave Broom’s analogy comparing single malts and blends in his 2014 Whisky: The Manual: “A single malt is like a solitary mountain peak. There are supporting flavors, but the peak rises above them. Blends are like a range of rolling hills. They are beautiful to look at, but part of a wider landscape. They are not better, or worse. They are different."
While less intense than single malts, blends comes in a similar range of light and grassy to rich and peaty. All these are very affordable, and great for the home bar. Their are a host of others to explore. For more check out, masterofmalt.com and thewhiskeyexchange.com.
Light, grassy and fruity:
Famous Grouse - My go to mixing Scotch. Light, malty and honeyed.
Dewar's White Label - For a richer version, try the Dewar's 12.
On the smokier side:
Famous Grouse Smokey Black - As you might imagine, like Famous Grouse but smokier, and a little more intense.
Johnny Walker Red Label - The most popular scotch brands in the world. The Black label is a step up in price, but also a great smoky mixing scotch, as well as sipping. The much-ballyhooed Blue Label (around $200 a bottle) is also a blend.
Blended Scotch Basics
Blended Scotch is a mixture of 15%-40% single malt scotch - 100% malted barley, which is more intense and 60%-85% single grain whisky, which is lighter and generally made mostly from wheat. Sometimes up to 30 single malts are be used in a blend while there’s typically only one grain whisky.
They are ideal for cocktails because the grain whisky stretches and mellows out the intense flavors in the single malt, producing a more balanced whisky.
Another plus: Blended scotches are much more affordable because single grains are cheaper and more efficient to produce.
If a blend has an age statement, it will be of the youngest whisky in the blend.
For more on single malt and scotch production in general, visit the scotch main page.
Blended Malt Scotch
aka Vatted Malt aka Pure Malt
This is a blend of only single malt scotches but from multiple distilleries. So it is 100% malted barley, and on the more intense side. This style allows blenders to really flex their creative muscles and experiment outside of the boundaries of a typical single malt. It's less common, but makes for some of the most exciting scotch available.
Today blended malt is the official name for the style, but it was also previously known as vatted malt or pure malt scotch, because the word "blend" used to have a negative connotation.
Johnny Walker Green Label - Not as expensive as you'd think.
Compass Box Peat Monster - The name says it all, but there's more than peat. This is a great, balanced blend.
Monkey Shoulder - Tasty with an excellent pricepoint.
Grain Scotch Whisky
The majority of grain whisky is used for making blended scotch, as discussed above. But some grain whiskies are beginning to be bottled and sold, giving this category a chance to step out of single malt's shadow and into the spotlight.
Grain whiskies offer a counter point to scotches typical flavors. They're lighter, gentler, but still rich and very enjoyable. Almost like an American whisky but with a Scottish approach. They are not widely available but it’s an evolving category. Compass Box Hedonism (Blended Grain), Famous Grouse The Snow Grouse (Blended Grain) - meant to be kept in the freezer, and Cameron Brig (Single Grain) are three well-regarded examples.
Single Grain Scotch
Like single malt scotch, single grain scotch must all come from one distillery but does not have to be one specific grain. Which is a little confusing, the single refers to the distillery, not the grain. It is made predominantly from wheat, sometimes corn, and there will always be some malted barley. They are distilled in column stills, which generally produce lighter spirits. This, coupled with their efficiency and wheat's affordability, makes make them cheaper to produce. So from a blending standpoint, it's a win-win.
These are blend of single grain scotches, but from different distilleries, following the model of blended malt scotch. They are rarest of the scotch cateogries.