Before you proceed, I would recommend referring to my Beyond the Blend Post, here. It should clarify a lot of what I’ve discussed here.
Now, let me start by laying down some facts about myself. I’ve never been much of a blended whisky groupie. Johnie Walker, Chivas, Dewars… never felt drawn to the brands, much less the concept.
How could one even think of the concept, mixing two or more perfect beverages, try mixing a bottle of Chablis with a bottle of pinot noir … But whisky is not wine. Wine is natural, its fermented grape juice, whisky is not natural, it is condensed vapour from fermented cereal sugar water. And as of consequence uses science to bring out the best of its being.
Enter blended whisky. I need not give any introduction to its presence on the global market. In the least words, the labels… Red, black and blue or the famous Regal, form the majority of the globes whisky sales. But alas, to most whisky drinkers it also has a reputation of being the cheaper stuff. Single malt is considered the drink of kings, blended scotch a forgotten black sheep of a third cousin.
Now most peoples logic on why it is inferior isn’t untrue entirely. There is a significant portion of grain spirit being used, the rest is malt whisky from some very well reputed single malt brands. Most agree that it removes the underlying flavours and produces a caramel sugar spirit. However, this is a pretty huge misconception.
So let me debunk a few of these myths;
- Yes its sweeter than single malts, The sweetness is a result of an amount of grain spirit being used.
- Grain spirit is not Scottish vodka – it doesn’t use malted barley, but pressure cooked grains. Which after distilling goes through the same ageing that malt whisky goes through.
- In fact grain spirit must have a certain amount of flavour BY LAW.
- The Single Malt brands used, are in fact owned by the same corporation.
- Grain spirit is not made via a shortcut. Yes it uses larger stills, called Coffey stills, which produce larger batches of whisky, but this was a result of a larger demand. Moreover as stated before, it is aged in the same oak & ex sherry casks that single malt whisky uses.
- Grain Whisky is not just grain whisky. It includes Single Grain whisky (produced in a single distillery), Blended Grain whisky (which bottlers use, by combining various whiskys from different distilleries), and Blended Scotch (regular Johnie Walker style blended whisky, with both grain and malt whiskys in them).
- It has a lot going on the palate, occasionally leading to a sort of haziness on the tongue. But one may interpret it as being more well rounded with each whisky used producing its own flavour to fill in the flavour gaps that the other whisky’s have.
Also keep in mind that the majority of grain whisky is made by distilleries in the lowlands. These rarely produce their own brand of scotch, rather they thrive on supplying corporations such as Diagio (a beverage super giant) and its subsidiaries in their blended whiskys.
The amount of grain whisky used to make a blended whisky is another thing. It ranges from a dominant 90% in Red label to 65% in Blue label. With that the flavour profile changes its course as well. Starting from a sweetness to a more complex product.
In fact I recommend new whisky initiates to begin with something like a red label, to get versed with the flavours that whisky has, the sweetness will also help you ease into the world of age distilled spirit. But despite the percentage of grain whisky, the belief that it is inferior to single malt remains.
The only exception that people have given to blended whisky is to the infamous Johnie Walker Blue label. I attribute that to an exceptional brand campaign, marketing team, and in truth to the spirit itself.
I don’t really feel the hype in Drinking Blue, but it is by far one of the smoothest whiskys there is, with perhaps the most approachable flavour profile of any premium whisky around.
Now I’m not going to be a hypocrite and state that i love blended whisky. But what i do have is a sense of respect for the men and women involved in the process.
Consider this – when a distillery produces a single malt whisky, it is a blend of malt whiskys produced by them. Imagine the task at hand when a master blender has to replicate the same taste year after year, with each batch and each cask giving thousands of differences in flavour.
Now think of a master blender from a bottling company like Johnie Walker, this fortunate and unfortunate soul (the former for their ability to taste a plethora of brands, the latter for the severity of their profile) has the responsibility to blend whiskys from so many distilleries, that the combinations reach the hundred thousands.
Not to mention having to mix grain and malt whiskys from each of these distilleries in a specific ratio. Not only that, but maintain the consistency that the product has had all these years. So consider the fact that Johnie walker has for over two centuries maintained this standard. Quite a remarkable feat, any way you look at it.
Over this series I will aim at debunking myths that have arisen over the years about blended whisky, along with providing some of my own notes on the same. Passing through the history of what makes blended what it is today. And finally concluding with a chart on how i believe a someone who wishes to enter the land of whisky should proceed.
SO Lets Begin…