The Grouse goes native

Happy St. Andrew’s Day!!! (30 things you didn’t know about St. Andrew)
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There’s no denying that we here in North America get screwed when it comes to buying Scotch.

For example, The Famous Grouse today announced the launch of a whisky
married exclusively in Scottish oak casks.

The limited edition bottling is married for three
years in locally grown oak, rather than imported Spanish or American casks, and "is
a celebration of the glorious versatility of oak grown in Scotland."

The Grouse is also including small
pieces of casks to go into the presentation boxes with the bottles. I think that’s pretty neat.

Even neater is the fact that remaining pieces of cask will be turned into a piece of art. The piece will go on permanent
display at the distillery and feature cask pieces inscribed with purchasers’
names so those who buy a bottle become a part of the distillery’s heritage.

So how are Norte Americanos* screwed? The 7,029 limited edition 50cl bottles (bottled at 44.5% abv with a retail
at £30.00) will be available
exclusively at The Famous Grouse Experience or on-line at www.thefamousgrouse.com  –  and since liquor can not be sent into the US or Canada, we won’t get a shot at this (unless of course you are travelling.)

Hopefully, they’ll still be some left at the time my next Scotland trip rolls around.

The same thing happens everytime something new and wonderful comes out – It’s a shame.

And considering we in the States are the biggest market in the world, maybe the producers should consider making allocations for us? Just a thought.

ScottishoakJohn Ramsay, The Famous Grouse master blender at Glenturret Distillery where a symbolic oak tree has been planted to
celebrate the launch of Scottish Oak Finish. A donation for every bottle sold
will go towards supporting the planting and care of native woodland in
Scotland.

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*That’s North Americans in Spanish – We at the Scotch Blog, gots all sorts of crazy book lurnin’.

St. Andrew's Day

I actually don’t have a short list of favorite whiskies, but if I did, Laphroaig would be on it.

And they seem to be developing quite a sense of humor. Is it new owner Fortune/Jim Beam, or was it always there bubbling just below the surface? Maybe Bruichladdich’s quirky sense of humor is coming down island.

Who knows, but they make some damn fine whisky. Heck, there’s nothing from Islay that I don’t like (nice double negative, huh?), but Laphroaig just holds a special place in my heart.

And being the good Scots that they are, Laphroaig has set up a web site to help celebrate St. Andrew’s day, which is observed on November 30th (tomorrow).

The site is educational but also quite witty – the entire site consists of a depiction of St Andrew in a stained-glass window, with a bag of golf clubs and a bottle of Laphroaig.

If you didn’t know, (I know not all of you readers are lucky enough to be Scottish ;)), Saint Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland, and he’s a pretty big deal there – as a matter of fact, the flag of Scotland is the called the "Cross of St. Andrew."

Scotlandwith_crossThe funny thing is that St. Andrew never set foot on Scottish soil.

St. Andrew is said to have been responsible for spreading the Christian religion though Asia Minor and Greece. It is said that St. Andrew was put to death by the Romans in Greece by being nailed to a diagonally shaped cross – the shape of this cross is said to be the basis for the Cross of St. Andrew.

Legend suggests that a monk called Rule (eventually St. Rule) was warned in a dream that St. Andrew’s remains were to be moved by the Emperor Constantine and Rule was directed by an angel to take whatever remains he could to the "ends of the earth" for safe-keeping. Rule removed a tooth, an arm bone, a kneecap and some fingers from St. Andrew’s tomb and took them as far away as he could: Scotland. Quite amusing that Scotland was considered the ends of the Earth.

Anyway, you can learn more about Golf, St. Andrew, the Thistle, and more importantly Laphroaig when you visit the site.

The Irish may have St. Patrick’s day, But the Scottish have St. Andrew’s Day (November 30th), Robert Burns’ Night (January 25th), Hogmanay (New Year’s), and a few sundry and other holidays. All present a good enough excuse to drink your favorite Scotch.

Thanksgiving Potpourri

Happy Thanksgiving! Here are some things to give thanks for…

Whisky Bible 2006 Release Date is Near
Got an email from Jim Murray on Monday night telling me that a shipment of his 2006 Whisky Bible should have arrived in New York this past Tuesday; after they get released from customs, they should be in the warehouse and ready to go by the end of the month.

More to follow…
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Macallan New Releases Imminent
This in from RemyUSA (The US Importer for Edrington Group whiskies). On December 1, 2005, just in time for holiday giving,  Macallan is launching two new expressions:

  1. A rare, 50 year old whisky in
    a custom designed Lalique Crystal decanter – retails for about $6,000 a bottle. Nice. I’ll take 2.
  2. The Macallan’s new
    Fine Oak 17 year old offering – retails for about $120 a bottle. At this price, buy a case for friends.

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TikiBar TV
The funniest thing on TV isn’t on TV. It’s a video podcast.

Each episode of TikiBar TV revolves around Dr. Tiki, JohnnyJohnny, and Lala – a very attractive, usually very drunk girl, as they teach you how to make a specific drink.

The presentation of the drink recipe is wrapped around by some of the most inventive, inane and funniest plots you’ll ever see. Episodes are generally under 5 minutes, and leave you wanting more.

No, TikiBar TV is not focused on Scotch, though I believe they’ve done at least one whisky cocktail. This is good stuff and I wanted to share.

Learn more about it at TikiBar TV. You can also subscribe (for free) through the iTunes Music Store.
And by the way, the funniest thing on TV was Arrested Development until the idiots at Fox canceled it (again).
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Compass Box Orangerie a "Scotch Whisky Infusion"
OK, this stuff is simply delicious.

Think of a creamy, sweet Scotch whisky infused with tiny shavings of fresh orange peel & spices.
Imagine it bottled once a year for drinking in cold weather. This is Compass Box ‘Orangerie.’

I shared this with family the night before Thanksgiving, and the response was overwhelming. This is something to be shared. It’s warming, smooth, citrusy and was the perfect accompaniment to the warm turtle brownie sundaes that gourmet Julie whipped up.

Not everyone at the table is a Scotch fan (I know, I know, but they ARE family) but everyone tried it, and everyone loved it.

Orangerie isn’t cheap at anywhere from $33 (Sam’s & Binny’s in Chicago) to $40 (Park Avenue Liquor in New York) for a 375 ml bottle. But what do you expect from a hand-crafted once a year Scotch?

If you want to kiss up to your a-hole boss, need to make sure that government witness will keep his mouth shut, or if you’ve been disinherited and want to get back in good with the aged patriarch of your family, Orangerie will do the job.

If you are looking for where to pick up Compass Box Whisky, check out their site and click on "LOCATE" at the bottom of the page.

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The world’s second whisky focused podcast has hit the "net-waves".

Mark Gillespie’s whisky focused podcast is new (only four episodes are available), but shows a lot of promise. Mark doesn’t present himself as a whisky expert, but instead a reporter with over 25 years of experience:

What you won’t find: I won’t rate whiskies, or tell you what to drink, how to drink it, and other pontifical nonsense. That’s because I’m not qualified — I’ve been a broadcast journalist for 25 years, and I’ll bring you interviews with the experts who know what they’re talking about.

Whisky Cast

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Monkey Shoulder
Previously (August 5 and September 7th) I wrote about Monkey Shoulder, which is still only available in the UK. In the aforementioned Whisky Bible 2006, Jim Murray gives Monkey Shoulder a very respectable 93 (out of a possible 100) score and says:

Outstanding vatting here by Dave Stewart, who clearly has the malts in the palm of his hands.

I know I have a few readers in the UK, so you guys can take advantage of a few holiday offers:

Win a fine meal for four

Monkey Shoulder has teamed up with the classy Cocoon bar and restaurant, just off Piccadilly, to offer one lucky person the chance to treat their friends to a post-Christmas feast. The prize draw includes a meal for four people, two Monkey Shoulder cocktails each and wine.

2 for 1 at Apartment 195

Throughout November, if you buy a Monkey Shoulder cocktail at Apartment 195, then the next one is on them.

Great Gift
For UK170, you can give a great gift: A bottle of Monkey Shoulder, the New 2006 Whisky Bible and the three Cs – cigars, cheese and chocolate all in an attractive gift "hamper" (that’s box to you and me here in the colonies.)

Read all about these offers and more at Monkey Shoulder.

The happiest drink on earth

This is sure to be a slow week. At least here in the US. There will likely be few posts for the rest of the week as I recover from a turkey and Scotch induced coma.

So I thought I’d take the lull to introduce the new The Scotch Blog T-shirt. The shirts are limited edition, mostly because I only ordered a few, and will be sure to go quickly.

MaltwhiskyfronttshirtThe front of the shirt simply says "Malt Whisky." But you’ll be sure to get a lot of double-takes from passers-by.

MaltwhiskybacktshirtThe back of the shirt shows the world that you are a discriminating reader of fine adult beverage news and commentary. The shirts will be ready soon, and you can place your order now at www.doceonpress.com.

And as an introduction I’m running a special competition for the December "Free Stuff."

Tell me why you deserve a free The Scotch Blog T-Shirt.

The winner, selected by a panel of judges of my selection will soon be stylin’ in one of these high quality 100% cotton class acts.

I’m partial to humor, but originality goes a long way with me, as I’m sure it will with the judges.

Don’t let the contest stop you from ordering:
1. If you order your shirt now and end up winning, I’ll either paypal you your money back, or you get a second shirt free – your choice.
2. What a great christmas gift! Nobody wants one of those disgusting petrified fruit cake things.
3. Really, do you think you are creative enough to win? Why chance it?

Entries are due by Monday December 12th.

Those of you in the US, have a great Thanksgiving.

Pernod ready to cull workforce

This from The Scotsman, Friday November 18th
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Pernod ready to cull Scots workforce
ALASTAIR REED

PERNOD Ricard has kicked off a major review of its operations in Scotland in what looks to be the beginning of a much-expected clear-out of the former Allied Domecq workforce – a move that could result in hundreds of jobs being lost north of the Border.

Speculation that Pernod, the world’s second largest drinks company, is to slash Allied’s 1,200-strong workforce in Scotland has been rife since its £7.6 billion takeover in July.

News that a strategic review has now started, with a view to cutting excess capacity, is the latest sign that the integration and consolidation process has started in earnest.

When the deal was completed, analysts said Pernod would be left with an overcapacity in Scotland and would have to "rationalise" certain functions to achieve the £300 million savings it is targeting.

An industry insider told The Scotsman yesterday that a review had now started in earnest. HR and communications teams have both been laid off, and other moves could result in significant Scottish job losses next spring, when it is expected to be finished, he said.

"The whisper in the Scotch whisky industry is that they’re looking to centralise all bottling at Kilmalid [Dumbarton], which is bigger and more modern, plus it has plenty of room for expansion," he told The Scotsman.

"The Chivas bottling plant at Paisley could be closed and the land sold off for development, while the bottling plant at Newbridge also looks to be under threat."

The source said Pernod was also looking at its brand portfolio to determine "which ones they want to retain and grow and which other ones could be sold".

Pernod already owns Chivas Brothers and Glenlivet in Scotland and has two large new facilities at Paisley and Newbridge, to the west of Edinburgh, employing 500 and 150 respectively. Through the Allied acquisition it added brands including Ballantine’s, Scapa, Glendronach and Tormore, along with Beefeater gin, Malibu rum and Stolichnaya vodka.

It has also taken on about 400 at Allied’s plant in Dumbarton, where it has two modern high-speed bottling halls. Paris-based Pernod has already announced that it is planning to shut its Kilwinning bottling plant and Linwood distribution hub this year, affecting 93 employees. Now unions and employees are bracing themselves for even worse news.

So far, Pernod is believed to have laid off three directors at the Allied Distillers’ plant in Dumbarton, reassigned another, and fired a master blender.

Another source close to the situation confirmed yesterday that the division’s six-strong communications team had also been laid off in the past two weeks.

A spokeswoman for Pernod confirmed task forces had been set up to look at its Scottish operations when the deal was announced on 26 July, but said she was unable to comment further.

"As far as bottling is concerned, we have no intention of closing any of the three bottling sites in Scotland," she said. "But I simply can’t comment on speculation or anything we haven’t already announced."

Dingwall eyes up ‘unloved’ distilleries

PERNOD’S ongoing strategic review could play into the hands of Venture Production founder Bruce Dingwall, who is in the process of reinventing himself as a "whisky scavenger" – despite learning his trade in the North Sea oil and gas industry.

Only last week, Dingwall told The Scotsman there were strong similarities between the consolidation in the North Sea ten years ago and the consolidation in the drinks industry today. As a result he is aiming to pick up "unloved assets from large companies" – and could get his opportunity sooner than expected.

Since acquiring Chivas from Seagram in 2000, Pernod has mothballed several distilleries, including Allt a’Bhannie, Braeval, Caperdonich and Glen Keith. In addition, Allied’s mothballed Imperial distillery, at Carron in Moray has been added to that list since then. All could be available at the right price.

Slainte, Tovarisch

Scotch whisky is the fastest growing premium spirit in Russia,
outstripping both Cognac
and Vodka.

The trend in demand for traditional economy spirits is
dropping in Russia,
and imported products, such as Scotch whisky, is seeing a significant
increase as the spirits gain in popularity among affluent urban consumers.

  • Growth in premium* Vodka – 133%
  • Growth in premium* Cognac – 131%
  • Growth in premium* Whisky – 136%
  • Increase in all Cognac – 97%
  • Increase in Single Malt – 126%

Source: RussianState Customs Committee
*Please note that the Premium sector for Cognac and Whisky starts at
55 Euros and up, while Premium Vodka is anything
costing 6 Euros and up. Yes, you read that right 55 vs 6. Also note that
Premium whisky includes luxury
blends as well as single malt.

Remember,
these figures are looking at comparative year-to-year growth, not total volume (those
figures are below).

As Russia becomes increasingly capitalistic, they are increasingly turning to Single Malt
& Blended whiskies as the luxury adult beverages of choice. Khorosho!**

Russia is not turning is back on cheapo vodka – it is more
that they are trading up to premium spirits as affluence grows
– this growth in consumption is led by the Russian nouveau riche
Oligarchs and the new wealthy entrepreneurs.
Vodka continues to be the beverage of
choice among your average Russian. And demand for premium
local and imported vodka brands is also in evidence.

2004 consumption

  • Premium Vodka: 13,528,000 liters
  • Premium Cognac: 87,088 liters
  • Single Malt: 84,979 liters
  • All Cognac: 1,795,930 liters
  • All Whisky: 3,706,366 liters

Obviously, the shear volume of Premium Vodka (keep in mind that this figure only includes Vodka which costs 6 Euros & up, and does not include all other Vodka) dwarfs the whisky volumes, but the beverage is making some significant headway into the market.

So what Single Malts are they drinking?

Glenfiddich is the biggest selling single malt, followed by Macallan and
Glenmorangie. Surprisingly, the fourth biggest selling single malt comes from
one of the smallest distillers of Scotch whisky, Bruichladdich Distillery.

But how does a tiny privately held distiller with no marketing budget to
speak of, manage to beat out multinational groups like Pernod, Suntory, Fortune
and Diageo and the millions they spend in promotion? CEO Mark Reynier:

We are as astonished as the next man. For a small independent distiller
such as ourselves to be the  fourth largest seller in Russia is a real David and Goliath story.

After decades of distrust of Russian and Capitalist disinformation, perhaps
there is a yearning for some truth. Bruichladdich fulfils that expectation with
the purest whisky – with out the propaganda. We let the whisky do the talking
not fancy, expensive marketing.

How do you say "The Scotch Blog" in Russian?

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** "Good"

Whyte & Mackay/Mailing List/Radio Whisky

Whyte & Mackay
Apparently someone at Whyte & Mackay reads The Scotch Blog.

Back on September 12, 2005 in "Pssst…Wanna Buy Glent Grant" I said that W&M had made the right decision to pull out of the £75
million deal to buy Glent Grant.

I think Whyte made the right choice by passing on Glen Grant. In my humble
opinion, they’d be better off using the money to grab an A-list single malt or
continuing to market their existing line.

Here’s the story from Justdrinks.com

UK: Whyte & Mackay in major marketing push
16 Nov 2005
Source: just-drinks.com
 
UK spirits group Whyte & Mackay is set to invest GBP100m (US$172.5m) behind a global relaunch of its key brands.

The company has also appointed a new global marketing director to lead the promotional push for a stable including Whyte & Mackay Scotch whisky and Vladivar vodka.

Richard Hayes, formerly European marketing director for Allied Domecq, has joined Whyte & Mackay and has “a proven track record in building brands outside of the UK and in growing equity in mainstream UK brands”, the company said.

“This is a significant senior appointment for us and I am delighted that we have secured someone of Richard’s calibre and reputation,” said Whyte & Mackay group managing director Bob Brannan. “It is an exciting time for our brands as we re-launch around the world.”

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Mailing List
Don’t forget to email me and ask to be added to the Mailing List.
Mailing List members get occasional emails about special things – such as advance notice of "Free Stuff."

Maybe even a few things that don’t make it to The Scotch Blog.

I will never sell or give your address to anyone.
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Radio Whisky
A few weeks ago my story Resource Round-up had a mention of Radio Whisky:

The world’s first whisky-related podcast comes to us from the great northwest. Washingtonian Tony Dirksen offers up whisky appreciation in short, easily digestible, 3-4 minute segments. I subscribe to the show via iTunes, and enjoy each new episode.

Tony started reading The Scotch Blog, and subsequently bought my book – his latest episode focuses on my book. Tony says:

Kevin Erskine’s "Instant Expert’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch" is the best introduction to our favorite subject that I’ve ever seen.

You can download and listen to the episode here. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

Through the Tasting Glass

I get a lot of suggestions from people for stories that I should write.

Kevin, how about a story on Irish Whiskey?

Hmm. Nothing wrong with Irish Whiskey. It’s great in a Car Bomb*, but it’s just not my thing.

But Ronnie Cox, the Director at The Glenrothes had a great suggestion:

Good to meet you Kevin. I believe you are starting something very interesting with your Scotch Blog. One of the key subjects that needs higher profiling is the glass type. As in most countries the tumbler is associated with whiskey. Need to tell people that to really appreciate Malt Whisky we need some sort of tulip shape to take the image correctly from one of drinking to one of savouring.

I do briefly mention the use of the proper glass in my book:

TastingglasssketchThe glass favored by blended whisky drinkers is a short, cylindrical tumbler, usually referred to as a scotch or “rocks” glass. This type of glass is fine for tasting a blend with some ice, but is completely unsuited for the subtlety of malt whisky.

A tulip-shaped tasting glass is ideal for single malt, but if all you can get your hands on is a sherry or brandy glass, either will work just as well.

The tumbler/rocks glass does nothing to enhance the whisky drinking experience, instead it is simply a glass that is readily available at bars, restaurants, and in the average home.

The picture above is The Glencairn Glass, a very popular whisky tasting glass designed specifically for the Scotch whisky industry and introduced in 2001.

Glencairn’s description:

The glass was designed with a tapered mouth to focus the aroma while at the same time being open enough to make it easy to drink from. This was married to a robust base that is comfortable in the hand and allow gentle warming of the liquid to open it up, resulting in a stylish attractive glass, a base to keep the hand clear of the liquid and it has no cuts or decoration that would obscure the colour while at the same time being easy to drink from.

If you don’t have a proper tasting glass, you really need to get one. Ronnie’s point is well taken.

David Wishart, Author of Whisky Classified:

To truly savor all that a single malt has to offer, the proper shape is of the utmost importance.
The nosing glass used in the whisky industry is tulip shaped like a sherry glass with a narrow mouth…The narrow mouth is important for containing the aroma that rises from the whisky, so that when we nose it we get the maximum fragrance.

Many restaurants and bars don’t (or can’t) carry the appropriate drinking vessel for every beverage, but you are really cutting your experience in half if you accept a single malt Scotch in a rocks glass from a restaurant or bar.

If I am trying a Scotch at a nice restaurant, I can be very demanding. And at $10-$20 per dram, why shouldn’t I be? Sometime though, I just test the bartender.

The first thing I do is look at the Scotch menu. If it has less than ten bottles on it, I know I’ll have to be specific, because chances are good that they don’t get a lot of Scotch orders. I’m never surprised to see that one or more of the distillery’s names have been misspelled. I always point it out to the bartender.

Then I order. Now I know a lot of the distilleries have interesting, sometimes hard-to-pronounce names, but I never fail to be amused when I order one, and the bartender doesn’t understand me:

Kevin: I’ll have the La-froyg
Ignorant bartender: Huh?
Kevin: The La-froyg, that one (pointing to Laphroaig)
Ignorant bartender: Oh is that how you say it?

Or when the bartender incorrectly corrects me:

Kevin: I’ll have the Glen-fid-ick
Smarmy bartender: You mean Glen-fidd-itch?
Kevin: Yes, but it’s pronounced Glen-fid-ick
Smarmy bartender: No it’s not.
Kevin: Whatever.
Smarmy bartender: You want that on ice?
Kevin: Check, please.

But when I don’t feel like training the bar staff for free, I get straight to the point:

I’ll have the Macallan 18, neat, with a small glass of room temperature water on the side. If you don’t have a whisky tasting glass, I’ll have that in a brandy snifter. Thanks.

You’d be surprised at the street-cred you’ll get from a good bartender when you know how to order.

But more importantly you’ll experience Scotch the proper way, with a glass that allows you to aerate the whisky, a glass that concentrates the bouquet, and a glass that makes it tough to fit an ice cube into.
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Irish Car Bomb*

Ingredients:
8 oz Guinness stout
1 oz Bailey’s Irish cream
1 oz Irish Whiskey (Jameson’s)

Mixing instructions:
Combine the Bailey’s and Whiskey in a shot glass.
Drop shot glass into beer.
Drink immediately.

Free Stuff – November

Yes kids, it’s time once again for Free Stuff.

I’m happy to say that it’s a T-shirt from my friends at Bruichladdich (size: XXLarge). And yes, that’s the only size I have. So give it to the "big" Scotch-lover in your life. I crack myself up.

Wmd2_tshirtThat’s a pretty nice freebie all by it’s lonesome – but what makes this shirt even more special is that it was schlepped all the way from the beautiful isle of Islay by Bruichladdich Master distiller Jim McEwan himself, as a special favor, specifically for one lucky reader of Scotch Blog.

You may have heard the story behind this WMD distillation but if you haven’t, it’s an amusing story which you can read here, but let me assure you, the story was funnier than hell when told to me by Jim McEwan.

Since this really is special, it will take a little work on your part – completing any one of the following three tasks will land you this great shirt.

  1. Be the first one to order The Instant Expert’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch after reading this. You must order through Doceon Press, and you must put "The Laddie" in the notes field. OR,
  2. So as not to penalize people who have already bought the book – If you already own The Instant Expert’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch, go to pages 25 and 57; email me the year of the Bruichladdich single cask in the picture at the bottom of page 25 AND the answer to the last question on page 57. OR,
  3. If you are sick of me promoting my book, be the first to email me a picture of yourself enjoying Bruichladdich. The bottle of Bruichladdich must be clearly visible. I reserve the right to post the winning photograph. (As an example, Mark Reynier was kind enough to include this picture of a fan in the Congo enjoying some Bruichladdich.)

Bonobos1_300
Remember, only ONE of the above tasks needs to be completed, but you need to be the first to email at least one of them. I think they are fair tasks – Buy a book, read a book you’ve already bought, or prove that you drink Bruichladdich.

PLEASE NOTE: Shipping is free within the US or Canada. European winners must pay shipping. If you are not a winner and still want this (or any other Bruichladdich T-shirt), buy it here.

If you are a regular reader, you know I’m a big promoter of Bruichladdich – and with good reason. Bruichladdich is innovative, and more importantly, it is delicious. If you haven’t tried one of their whiskies, you should.

But wait…there’s more…a consolation prize…
The second person to respond gets a beautiful poster from Talisker. The poster is a map of the western Highlands and centers on the Isle of Skye.

And just as a teaser, I have shirts from a few different companies in the massive Free Stuff vaults.

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And no, I am not paid to endorse Bruichladdich or any other distiller.

My Standard Disclosure: I am not paid to mention specific products nor do I accept any advertising. I do occasionally receive Scotch samples or promotional materials from companies, but this is not in return for any consideration.

Art of the Blend

I’m a single malt guy. As a matter of fact, I tried blended whisky early on in my drinking “career” and to be honest, if the world of whisky consisted only of blends, chances are excellent that The Scotch Blog would not exist today.

But there’s a new trend in blends, and the blends that are being introduced today are not your grandpappy’s blended Scotch. Companies like William Grant & Sons, Compass Box, and Easy Drinking Whisky are doing some very innovative things with blends and vatted malts.

Before we get too far into today’s article, I thought a short refresher course might be of use…

As you probably know, blended Scotch whisky is the proper name for a beverage created when a malt whisky (or, more likely, multiple malt whiskies) is combined with grain whiskies.

Malt whisky was, at one time, considered to be a “wild & fiery” drink, appropriate only for the highlander. In the 1800s, enterprising businessmen decided to tame the rich flavors of malt whisky for the more delicate palates of Europe. This was accomplished by mixing the stronger single malt with milder whiskies made from grains which had been distilled in a new type of still known as a continuous still.

This whisky, known as “blended Scotch,” became quite popular in the later 19th century, and was usually taken with ice and soda water – a custom which continues today.

-The Instant Expert’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch

The skills required to make a blend are the same skills used to make a vatted malt – a vatted malt being a beverage created from mixing single malts from different distilleries. These whiskies have been called “Pure Malts” but the SWA would like to standardize on the term “Blended Malts,” though producers of these whiskies prefer simply “malt whisky.” We’ve previously run this topic into the ground, (See August 10, 12, 16) so it’s time to move on to the point.

Today, I’d like to discuss the Art of the Blend, and throw out the question of:
Does it takes more skill to create a great blend than it does to create a great single malt?

Now, I know this may not be a fair question, since as we all know from reading The Instant Expert’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch that almost all whiskies, single malt or otherwise, are the product of at least some blending (or vatting, or marrying – pick your term).

But I always like to hear what people think, so, I decided to ask some of the Scotch industry’s best to chime in with their opinions. I think you’ll find their answers interesting…

John Glaser
Company Founder & Blender, Compass Box Whisky

The way I look at this is that blending is blending is blending, whether you’re blending components for a single malt (different ages, different cask types, changes or mistakes in distillation process over time), or blending components for a vatted malt or blend.
 
I can tell you that it is harder to blend lighter style whiskies than heavy/peaty style whiskies.  This is because differences between batches are much more evident in lighter style whiskies than heavier style whiskies.  Eg., Asyla versus Peat Monster.  Asyla is the most work to get right, (also the most rewarding for me).

David Stewart
Master Blender, William Grant & Sons

It takes different skills to create a blended whisky, whether a blend of grains and malts or just a number of malts, to creating a single malt.  With a single malt you are working with different ages of that malt whisky and from different types of casks to create on one hand consistency and on the other hand clear taste differences in a product range.

With a blended whisky you trying to combine many malt and grain whiskies or just malt whiskies of similar ages together to achieve a balanced and consistent taste with a recognisable character.

David “Robbo” Robertson
Former Master Distiller, Macallan
Co-Founder, Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whisky Company

Depends…
Most single malts are a mix of casks and ages – and therefore flavours.

Key in any product recipe is combining flavours to ensure that there is balance, consistency and a showcasing of the flavours that you feel are most appropriate for your hooch.

In my experience, it is a tough shout putting together whiskies matured in Spanish Oak sherry casks because the diversity of aromas, flavours and colours is so much bigger than dealing with ex-US bourbon barrel matured whiskies.

For example colours for Spanish Oak sherries can range from 10 to 100, American Oak sherries 2 – 20, American Oak ex-bourbon 2 – 16. Whilst not directly linked to aroma and flavour, there is some correlation – i.e. sherry matured ex-Spanish Oak can have 5 – 10 times more flavour range.

This is sometimes helpful ’cause you can create a better balance with more complexity. Down side can be that nothing integrates and you get an mish-mash of flavours and nothing seems to work together.

This can also be the same for smoky whiskies – sometimes a burnt peat can dominate so you need to knock back that style (if you don’t want it) and use other flavour styles that create a blend/mix you like.

Older malts can be tricky because they can be overly woody and you do not normally have a large pool of casks from which to draw – reducing the flexibility.

Grain and malt is fairly straightforward where (as in singles) you can create a base style that you then overlay, finesse, and add to – to give certain "highlights".

In summary, I would say it takes the same amount of skill to create a great blend or a great single (or a great vatted malt for that matter…) – it will be interesting to hear what the others say…

Some people talk about orchestras and how you need a range of instruments to get a great sound, others talk pasta and sauce to get great flavour, some say the whole has to be greater than the sum of its parts – for me the best analogy is sight – if you can only see a limited range of colours (B&W vs. full colour) the experience lacks something.  We are trying to create multi coloured malts that arrest all your senses – eyes, nose, tongue – ears is a step too far!

Dr. David Wishart
Author  "Whisky Classified: Choosing Single Malts by Flavor"

The two roles are quite complementary. The master blender’s task is to reproduce the flavor profile of a classic blend exactly, whereas the malt master has complete creative freedom to challenge the taste buds with each new single malt creation. The former requires close attention to detail, rounding and smoothing the blend to replicate its classic formula, while the latter enjoys the extravagance of total artistic expression.

As always, I appreciate the participation from these guys. I’ve found that the people in the Scotch Whisky industry are generally among the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met and their passion and love for Scotch is apparent in the fact that they take time out of their busy work and travel schedules to answer my (sometimes inane) questions.