I think it's just plain silly that we would judge blended whiskies harshly at all. They undeniably have their place in the continuum of whisky crafting, and they are the logical antithesis - and true creative outlet - to the elite specialization (and provenance) of single cask bottlings. Seeing as I've written recently about developments in the single cask space, I thought I'd turn around and do a little fireside chat about something that has truly captured my interest. It'll be an ongoing series, because this is my new thing. I AM HAVING A BLAST DISCOVERING AND EXPERIMENTING WITH WHISKY BLENDS!
I'll confess to some self-imposed ignorance of the craft of blended whisky as I was sidetracked by single malts and independent bottlers most of last year. Since my journey of craft blending is just beginning, I thought I'd share it with you and include you, rather than pretend I've been all over this for any longer than... 2 weeks. What is truly delightful is how well the art and design of blending have meshed with Cereal Alchemist's mantra: Tinker, Blogger, Guru, Spy. There's an arcane mysticism (Tinker, Spy) to the art of blending, requiring intuitive knowledge of the production of distilled spirits along with a willingness to communicate with enthusiasm and clarity (Guru, Blogger). I think it's safe to say this blog is entering some uncharted territory! Just as well, "ships at harbor" and all...
I'm going to dive deep into the origin and legacy of blended whiskies in a future post. For now, I wanted to let you know that Famous Grouse and Johnnie Walker are totally not the movers and shakers behind blended whisky's revival (if there is one; not dissing the establishment's contribution to the space here) . Blends are being taken very seriously at competitions, and I think I should introduce you to some that have made immediate and lasting impressions upon me as I prep the bathysphere.
- The hipsters among you are likely to recognize John Glaser's Compass Box (Hedonism) in this space. He's built up a cult following for good reasons: he's made affordable, delicious blends sexy and cool again. Hedonism is the perfect showcase for grain whisky, but Spice Tree, Oak Cross, and Peat Monster fire on all cylinders as well. I'll review Hedonism in the reviews section tomorrow.
- Monkey Shoulder is winning crazy awards for it's rich and stylish blend of William Grant products (Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie). This is one lead in what I predict will be a booming market of premium Scotch blends this year. The name comes from an injury that malting floor shovelers sustained back when floor malting was still a widespread thing amongst Scotch distillers.
- Hibiki... ah, Hibiki. Sometimes I just like to say the name. It's a blend of Suntory whiskies (from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distillery), some extra-matured in plum wine barrels. This was a finalist in my Highley Recommended awards last year, filled with fruit, oak, and umami. Sublime. I really want to try the older Hibiki blends if this one is so good. Hibiki :-)
I'm going to finish each Will It Blend? series with a rewarding blend that I develop during experimentation. Like any true blender, I'm going to name each one :-) That's half the fun after all. This one's called Cardinal North - Spring.
With Cardinal North - Spring, I tried my hand at a mixture that lingered in my brain after I spent the weekend resampling my collection. I ended up blending Redbreast 12 and Highland Park 15 (for the sherry notes and grain character, in addition to some light smoke) with Talisker Storm (for the Hebridean peat along with some spice and vigor a.k.a. ABV) in a 4:3:3 ratio respectively.
The "hyphen-Spring" nomenclature comes from some variations I have planned on this blend - one for each season. My subconscious dreamed this one up in minutes; I guess I'm just longing for the days to get longer here in the northern hemisphere.