Blending It With The Best
By Franz Scheurer
In the beginning there were Single Malts, whiskies made entirely from malted barley. Then a change in the excise laws started Blends, a combination of Single Malts (made from malted barley), and Grain Whiskies (made from other, unmalted, cooked grains), and within a very short time they totally cornered the Whisky Market. Single Malts were deemed to be too harsh, too strong, and the consumers were looking for a gentler, smoother dram. Combining grain spirits with malt spirits achieved this. Lately there has been a distinct resurgence in interest in Single Malts and, although Blends outsell Single Malts worldwide ten to one, they are suddenly no longer sexy.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Single Malts, but that doesn’t stop me admiring some of the terrific Blends out there. Here are three of the best.
Cutty Sark 25 y/o, 43% a/v
Cutty Sark ‘Scots’ Whisky, the ‘Scots’ (rather than ‘Scotch’) making it the Whisky of the people rather than the Whisky of the country, is made from grain and malt spirits that are over 25 years old. Berry Bros & Rudd have an enviable reputation of getting it right. They marry the spirits in oak before bottling (I believe they’re mainly Tamdhu, Glen Rothes and The Macallan) and do not add caramel to ‘augment’ the colour, as the makers of most Blends do.
Colour: Rich mahogany with a tinge of rosewood.
Nose: Immediate hints of sweet violets and floral like a warming spring wind over a fresh meadow.
Palate: Like gliding into a warm bath. The Whisky envelops and caresses your tongue with sweet malty characters, driven by sharper, grassy Speyside notes. Mouth-coating, textured, fresh despite its age, with a long, sweet and briary finish.
Comment: Celebrates the art of the blender. One of the best Blends in the world.
Islay Mist 8 y/o, 43% a/v
Originally conceived by the Johnsons, owners of Laphroaig, to mark the 21st birthday of a local laird, this Blend is for people who take their Scotch very seriously. Full of peat, it is nevertheless tempered by grain spirit, and might just be the perfect Whisky for all the drinkers who thought they didn’t like the Islay style.
Colour: Quite light, Riesling-like yellow.
Nose: In your face, peat, iodine, salty seaweed with sweeter grain notes. A smorgasbord of aromas that keeps delivering as long as you care to sniff.
Palate: Contrary to the nose the initial impact on the palate is smooth. All the sea flavours and peat are there, tempered by floral, sweet grain character. An eternal seesaw of dry and sweet keeping your interest to the last drop. Finishes long with vanilla and coconut scented peat lingering seemingly forever.
Comment: If you love Islay whiskies this will tease, caress and challenge you. If you don’t then this dram might change your mind.
Blue Hanger, 45.6%
Named after a customer, always dressed in blue back in the late 17th century, his image is on the label. Blended from eight to twelve year old Whiskies they then spend five extra years ‘marrying’ in oak. The Blend no doubt contains Highland Park, Glen Rothes, Bunnahabhain and whisky from Edinburgh’s last working distillery, North British.
Colour: Rich amber with pink highlights.
Nose: Orange peel, Christmas cake, almonds and Demerara sugar aromas are balanced by faint notes of gentian and bitter almonds.
Palate: First impression is ‘oily’, almost like an Irish Whisky. This is one of the most complex Whiskies you’ll ever taste. Flavours of dark chocolate and candied citrus peel are underpinned by light, slightly cedary bass notes with a savoury, meaty and long, textured finish.
Comment: Unfortunately quite hard to get. Keep on the lookout for it in duty free stores in airports around the world. This is a must have in your collection.