Blended whisky. Depending on your pedigree, your exposure to blended whisky products, or simply ingrained personal prejudice, seeing the term "blended" on a bottle can make you sneer or smile. I'm often surprised at the visceral reaction that blended whiskies produce from single malt purists: "Yeugh, not me, I'm a single malt man!" (betraying a staggering ignorance as to blended whisky's origins; also, nine times out of ten, they prefer their desired single malt for the perceived "status" of drinking it). On the flip side, there are people who feel safe with their preferred blends and rarely bother to venture onto the black diamond slopes of single malt and single cask whisky expressions ("blend/brand hobbits"; have a little adventure!).
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!
It started with the perfect Christmas present for an aspiring whisky blogger (one with a confessed fetish for single malts and single cask bottlings). I received Master of Malt's Executive Blend-Your-Own-Whisky set from some awesome in-laws this year, and was quickly broken out of my shell when the humbling task of blending fell to me. Nothing like on-the-job learning! (especially with whisky; even the failures are exhilarating!). That letter you see addressed to "Dear Whisky Blender" has all sorts of wonderful instructions on how to mix the included samples of grain whisky and malt whisky (all different ages and regions of Scotland) in order to assemble your favorite blends. The set even includes pipettes and measuring flasks for recording purposes. What's more, you can order your favorite blends from the Master of Malt website as actual bottlings, with a customized label. MoM isn't the only one doing this though. Behold, whisky meets Web 3.0!
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.
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 result is something like a creamy, divinely-peated Irish blend, unquestionably Hebridean in nature. The sweet, fruity character from the sherry and grain are uplifting and graceful. Talisker overwhelms the slightest bit on the pepper, ash, and peat, and I probably could have dialed it down to 2 in the ratio. Overall, it's like experiencing a thunderstorm at sea in the north Atlantic during the vernal equinox, complete with ozone [side note: yes, I actually have experienced all of that in real life]. It carries the promise of new life, while the winds and seas remind you of your mortality. Land has to be somewhere under those black clouds...
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.