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Issue 17 - Blends not blands

Scotland Magazine Issue 17
November 2004

 

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Blends not blands

While single malt whisky tends to get all the critical acclaim, the vast mass of sales are in the blended sector. Dominic Roskrow reports

Talk to a Scottish whisky lover and chances are he or she will be disparaging about blends. But with more than 90 per cent of all bottles sold in this sector, it can’t be dismissed lightly – and nor should it be.

Blended whisky is whisky created by mixing single malt whisky with whisky made with another type of grain. Normally it is made up of several whiskies, though in theory it could contain just two – one malt and one other grain.

The whole point of blended whisky is to create a smooth and relatively easy to drink product, so by its very nature is unlikely to try and challenge the drinker in the way that a single malt might.

And consistency is the other key driving force. This means that a master blender will use a large number of basic whiskies to create a blend so that if a particular whisky runs out (and this happens regularly) he can find replace it without affecting the overall taste.

So why the poor reputation? There are three principle reasons.

Firstly, the average – and we use the term advisedly - blend is aimed at the low cost supermarket bottom shelf, and contains very young whisky, often three years and a day old; ie as young as it can be legally sold.

Secondly, much of the quality of the other whisky – often called grain whisky or grain neutral spirit – is questionable. And three, there are no rules governing the proportion of malt to grain, meaning that much of the market is made up of badly balanced and indifferent whisky, when the smooth qualities that grain brings to the party descends in to blandness.

Pity the poor master distiller of a major and reputable company, then. He spends years perfecting a stunning and balanced drink only to have his art tainted by the mass of dross that clogs up his sector.

There are truly great Scottish blends around, many of them with age statements showing the age of the youngest whisky in the mix. And if you think about it, if you bring 10 great malts together at worst they’re going to taste great, and at best they’re going to add up to more than the sum of their parts.

The list that follows isn’t definitive but is a guide to some of the great blended whiskies.

KEY
Age: Where an age is given that is the age of the youngest whisky in the mix. There may be some much older ones, and usually are
ABV: This is alcohol by volume and is exactly half the American proof system of measurement.

THE ANTIQUARY 21 YEARS
Company: J&W Hardie
Age: 21 Year Old
ABV: 43%
Territories: Worldwide
Description: Rich, fruity and warming with hints of peat and sherry.
Price: NA

AYSLA
Company: Compass Box
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories: United Kingdom and Europe
Description: A blended Scotch made of 50 per cent malt whisky and 50 per cent grain whisky described as “soft, sweet, malty-tasting whisky
for everyday use and for all sorts of occasions.”
Price: UK £25

BALLANTINE’S
Company: Allied Domecq
Age: None
ABV: NA
Territories: Europe and America
Description: With 50 malts included this is a very smooth and rounded whisky with chocolate and apple notes.
Price: NA

BLACK BOTTLE
Company: Gordan Graham
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories: Worldwide
Description: A full bodied and surprisingly mature balance of peat wood and fruit.
Price: UK £18

BELL’S 8 YEAR OLD
Company: Diageo
Age: 8 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: Worldwide
Description: A surprisingly weighty mainstream blend with the smokiness of Caol Ila whisky evident.
Price: UK £16

CHIVAS REGAL 12
Company: Chivas
Age: 12 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: 150 countries worldwide
Description: A radiant warm amber colour with an aromatic infusion of wild herbs, heather, honey and orchard fruits. It is round and creamy on the palate, with a full, rich taste of honey and ripe apples with vanilla, hazelnut and butterscotch notes and a rich and lingering finish.
Price: UK £19.84
US $28.00
Euro 29.77

CHIVAS REGAL 18
Company: Chivas
Age: 18 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: USA, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, France, Spain, Greece. Also available in Latin America and other Asian markets such as Singapore and Malaysia
Description: An intense dark amber colour – with aromas of dried fruits, spice and buttery toffee. Exceptionally rich and smooth with a velvety, dark chocolate palate with elegant floral notes and a wisp of sweet mellow smokiness. A magnificently long, warm and memorable finish.
Price: UK £43
US $50.49
Euro 37.00

CLAN CAMPBELL
Company: Chivas
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories: France, Italy
Description: Clan Campbell – a quality blend of the finest malt and selected grain whiskies. It is a smooth, light whisky with a high proportion of Speyside malts, which give a fruity finish. Single malts predominantly from the Speyside region are chosen to add character to this exceptional blend.
Price: Euro 11.00

CUTTY SARK 25 YEARS
Company: Berry Brothers & Rudd
Age: 25 Year Old
ABV: 45.7%
Territories: Portugal, Greece, Japan, Korea, UK
Description: A selection of outstanding single whiskies over 25 years old, including the very best Speyside malts, have been brought together by the master blender and returned to cask to marry, harmonise and mature further. It is bottled from cask and offered at full marrying strength. Colour: rich, dark golden, natural colour drawn from the cask. Nose: fresh, aromatic, with hints of jasmine. Palate: a rich, full, spicy flavour with eucalyptus notes. Finish: lingering, long, dry and fresh
Price: UK £99

DEWAR’S FOUNDERS RESERVE
Company: Dewar’s
Age: 18 Year Old
ABV: 43%
Territories: Worldwide particularly America
Description: The heather sweetness of the house style is evident but overall a harmonious and mature blend.
Price: NA

ELEUTHERA
Company: Compass Box
Age: None
ABV: 46%
Territories: United Kingdom and Europe
Description: A vatted malt – a blend of single malt whiskies of different ages from different distilleries – that offers one of the most drinkable styles of smoky Scotch whisky. The blend is aged in ‘first fill’ American oak casks, maturing a whisky that brims with sweet vanilla and honey characteristics. “The key to Eleuthera is to set just the right amount of smoky Islay malt whisky against a backdrop of rich, sweet and savoury Highland whiskies”.
Price: UK £32

FAMOUS GROUSE FINEST
Company: Edrington
ABV: 40%
Territories:Worldwide
Description: Golden and bright appearance with a balance of oak and sherry on the nose and a hint of citrus. Medium fruity flavour. Combines an array of top Scottish malts including the Macallan and Highland Park
Price: UK £16

THE FAMOUS GROUSE PORT WOOD FINISH
Company: Edrington
Age: NoneABV: 40%
Territories:Worldwide
Description: Rounded and fruity with pleasant sweet notes
Price: NA

GRAND MACNISH FINEST
Company: MacDuff International
Age: 12 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: North & South America, Europe, UK, Middle East, Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and the Far East.
Price: UK £10.99 - £11.99

GRANT’S ALE CASK RESERVE
Company:William Grant & Sons
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories: UK, France, New Zealand
Description: Grant’s Ale Cask Reserve was created in partnership with the Caledonian Brewing Company. Grant’s Ale Cask Reserve is the only Scotch whisky to be finished in beer barrels. The ale casks give the whisky a distinctively creamy, malty, honeyed taste, with a long finish and just a hint of smoke.
Price: UK £12.99

GRANT’S FAMILY RESERVE
Company:William Grant & Sons
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories:Available in more than 180 countries
Description: Deliciously complex taste and classic, long, smooth finish. Nose: unmistakably Speyside with fluting malty notes. A clean yet complex aroma with a sweetish fruity edge. Intriguingly and deliciously structured. Taste: a firm mouth feel with banana/vanilla sweetness balancing sharper malty notes. Clean but very complex. A long, smooth, lingering finish.
Price: UK £11.69

GRANT’S PREMIUM 12 YEAR OLD
Age: 12 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: South America, Portugal, Africa, Malaysia, Middle East
Description:A blend of the finest single malt and grain whiskies matured in oak casks for at least 12 years and finished in specially selected first-fill bourbon casks. The result is a full-bodied Scotch whisky of exceptional richness. Nose: vibrant with aromas of fruit (blackcurrant and peaches); balanced with a sweet, vanilla maltiness. Taste: very sweet and rich with a lovely mix of vanilla, honey and spice. A long, soothing and warm finish. The first premium whisky finished in specially selected virgin bourbon casks.
Price:NA

GRANT’S RARE OLD 18 YEAR OLD
Company: William Grant & Sons
Age: 18 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: South America, Portugal, Africa, Malaysia, Middle East
Description: A blend of malt and grain whiskies matured in oak casks for a minimum of 18 years and then finished in specially selected port casks. The result is a magnificent, perfectly balanced Scotch whisky of intricate aromas and considerable depth of taste. Nose: rich and complex with honey and spice notes; a soft nuttiness combines with delicate, fruity, port notes. Taste: a full-bodied blend with a silky mouth-feel; fruitcake, malty, honey and port flavours combine beautifully. A long, rich and elegant finish.
Price: NA

GRANT’S SHERRY CASK RESERVE
Company: William Grant & Sons
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories: UK, France, New Zealand
Description: Grant’s Sherry Cask Reserve is finished in casks the previously held Oloroso sherry. It has a medium dry taste with rich fruitcake and nuts. Distinctively warm, rich and fruity.
Price: UK £12.99

HEDONISM
Company: Compass Box
Age: None
ABV: 43%
Territories: United Kingdom and Europe
Description: Blend of 100 per cent grain whisky, offering a mix of vanilla, cream and toffee flavours together that are equally appealing to whisky connoisseurs and newcomers. Made in small batches, from whiskies up to 23 years old and using only the very best casks, Hedonism is luscious, elegant and sweet.
Price: UK £40

ISLAY MIST
Company: MacDuff
Age: Deluxe, 8, and 17 Year Old versions
ABV: 40%
Territories: UK, Europe, Scandinavia, Far East, North & South America
Description: Islay Mist is a blend of fine aged whiskies all matured in oak casks to develop their full character, and blended together to produce a full bodied yet subtle whisky. True connoisseurs of fine Scotch whiskies will readily detect the presence of the world famous single Islay Malt which is at the heart of the blend.
Price: UK £12.99 - £13.49

ISLE OF SKYE 8 YEARS OLD
Company: Ian Macleod
Age: 8 Year Old (also available at 12, 21 and 50
Year Old)
ABV: 40%
Territories: More than 20 countries
Description: Nose: deep peaty tones with oaky, vanilla notes and something malty and even slightly honeyed. Taste: sweet at first, and remarkably viscous. This seems to be the peat hanging around and there is intense barley sugar and spice. Finish: remains sweet, spicy and chewy and at the end faintly nutty. The oak returns at the end. Core malts include Talisker, Glenfarclas, Lagavulin and Longmorn.
Price: UK £11.99

ISLE OF SKYE 12 YEARS OLD
Company: Ian Macleod
Age: 12 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories : Distributed in more than 20 markets
Description: A smooth blend combining sweet honey/vanilla flavours and fruitiness with smoky/peaty/peppery island notes.
Price: UK £20.99

ISLE OF SKYE 21 YEARS
Company: Ian Macleod
Age: 21 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: Isle of Skye is distributed in more than 20 markets around the world by Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd.
Description: Wonderfully mellow whiskies displaying the sweet and smoky characteristics of the 8 and 12 year old with traces of light burnt wood now evident. Isle of Skye 21 year old is particularly smooth and mellow, with a satisfying complexity and depth. There are several reasons for this, not the least being the unusually high proportion of first class Island and Speyside malts used in the blend.
Price: UK £62.50 with porcelain decanter.

ISLE OF SKYE 50 YEAR OLD
Company: Ian Macleod
Age: 50 Year Old
ABV: 50%
Territories : More than 20 countries worldwide
Description: Renowned for its powerful character, this special whisky has a rich and complex nose that includes sherry wood, marzipan, nuts and raisins. Vanilla and honey sweetness, candy floss and treacle.
Price: UK £400 including wooden presentation box

JUVENILES
Company: Compass Box
Age: None
ABV: 44%
Territories: United Kingdom and Europe
Description: A vatted malt whisky, a custom whisky blend made for Tim Johnston of the Juveniles wine bar in Paris, but now available throughout Europe. Juveniles is a vatting of malt whiskies from different distilleries with each of the whiskies having aged in ‘first fill’ American oak casks, enhancing Compass Box’s hallmark of creating a softness and sweetness in the final blend. Juveniles is soft, with hints of sweet cereals, apple-fruit and baking spice.
Price:NA

JOHNNY WALKER BLACK
Company: Diageo
Age: 12 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories:Worldwide
Description: Complex and full bodied mix of fruity, smoky and smooth whiskies.
Price: UK £40

JOHNNY WALKER BLUE
Company: Diageo
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories:Worldwide
Description: Containing the company’s best and rarest whiskies this is creamy, rich, honeyed and a balance of smoke and spice.
Price: UK £150

JOHNNY WALKER GOLD
Company: Diageo
Age: 18 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: Worldwide
Description: Honey, silky and creamy smoothness and a subtle balance of flavours.
Price: NA

LANGS SELECT 12 YEARS OLD
Company: Ian MacLeod
Age: 12 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: Worldwide
Description: Core malt is Glengoyne and this whisky has the smooth. Fruity and clean characteristics of that distillery.
Price: UK £20.99

LANGS SUPREME
Company: Ian Macleod
Age: 5 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: Worldwide
Description: Medium golden colour. Rich malt aroma with a hint of sherry and rich, medium sweet flavour. An exclusive combination of some 25 or more high quality malt and grain whiskies. At its heart lies Glengoyne distillery malt.
Price: UK £9.99

LAUDER’S ORIGINAL
Company:
Age: Standard and 12 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories: North & South America, Europe, UK, Middle East, Far East
Description:
Price: UK £10.99/11.99

100 PIPERS
Company: Chivas
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories: Thailand, Spain, India, Venezuela
Description: Distinctive smooth yet subtly smoky taste. More than 25 specially selected and carefully aged whiskies, each of them of superior quality in their own right, are used in this exceptional blend.
Price : Euro 11.00

PASSPORT
Company: Chivas
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories available in: Spain, Brazil
Description: Passport is a blended Scotch with an unusually fruity taste and a deliciously creamy finish. It can be served straight, over ice or mixed. The creamy fruitiness of Passport can be traced back to the heart of its blend – Glenkeith Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Price: Euro 9.00

THE PEAT MONSTER
Company: Compass box
Age: None
ABV: 46%
Territories: United Kingdom and Europe
Description: A big, rich, smoky-peaty malt whisky that lives up to its name. The Peat Monster is a vatted malt ie a blending of single malts from different distilleries. Originally created for the US at cask strength.
Price:UK £30

ROYAL SALUTE
Company: Chivas
Age: 21 Year Old
ABV: 40%
Territories available in: Worldwide with a key focus on Asia
Description/tasting notes: Royal Salute 21 Year Old’s distinctive taste is the result of masterful blending and perfect ageing. The deep gold colour of the whisky reflects the power and richness of the flavours, with soft fruity aromas balanced with a delicate floral fragrance and mellow honeyed sweetness.
Price: UK £ 80.00
Euro 120

SHIELDAIG CLASSIC
Company: Ian Macleod
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories: Europe
Description: Warm amber colour with golden highlights. Light malty nose. Mellow with lots of subtle floral notes and honey sweetness. Slightly
peaty on the finish. Mouth warming and soft.
Price: Euro 18.00

SIGNATURE
Company: Dewar’s
Age: None
ABV: NA
Territories: Primarily America
Description: Fruity and mellow, with sultanas, raisins, apples and the Aberfeldy heather-honey to the fore. Sophisticated and well balanced, this
contains some serious, old whiskies.
Price: NA

SOMETHING SPECIAL
Company: Chivas
Age: None
ABV: 40%
Territories:Venezuela, Columbia, Korea
Description:A distinctive blend of dry fruity and spicy flavours with a subtle smoky sweetness. The award-winning single malt Longmorn is a major ingredient.
Price: US $14.00

WILLIAM GRANT & SONS
RARE & EXTRAORDINARY
Company:William Grant & Sons
Age: 25 Year Old
ABV: 43%
Territories: Travel Retail, Russia, Bulgaria, Asia
Description: A rare and exceptional Scotch whisky created by David Stewart, William Grant & Sons Master Blender. Using the very finest whiskies, selected from all over Scotland and matured in our warehouses for 25 years. Tasting notes: old gold to bronze colour with a polished leather, oak and beeswax nose, more flowery (peach blossom) and leafy when water is added. Surprisingly fresh and smooth taste with mint toffee, cedar and sweet tobacco notes. Avery sophisticated blend, full of lively flavours. It has benefited greatly from its long maturation. Very confident and stylish.
Price: UK £60