Monday, September 17, 2007
Blended Scotch Whisky
£20(? not available in UK)
Welcome back to the mission. We had a nice time with friends, family, and food in Toronto and now we are back with the focused goal of tasting our way to Malt Mission 200... and a few other minor goals along the way (submitting this damned dissertation, training for a new job, learning to make pancakes as nice as the ones Morwenna made for us on Sunday, etc.)
We will have a blends week here on the mission. I have a keen interest in blends, partly because of my fascination with their variety and abundance, with most local markets having their own brands unavailable anywhere else in the world, partly because of the fact that blends are what keep distilleries open and made whisky a worldwide phenomenon (see my Bullocks to Blends series or go buy a book), but also because the craft of blending is a fascinating art and the challenges blenders face in making a consistent product out of often variable tools is nothing short of astounding.
Blended whiskies are a combination of different single malts (whiskies made in pot stills out of a single grain, barley, and at a single distillery) and different grain whiskies (whiskies made in column or Coffey stills out of various different grains, maize, wheat, barley, rye). Contrary to snobborific popular belief, Blended whiskies are NOT by default better or worse than single malts. They are made with quite different intentions than single malts, and often quite different aims than eachother (a wintery blend, a summer blend, a peaty blend, a blend for ice, a blend for cooking, a blend to accompany all night conversations... etc.). Where single malt whiskies are made to be individual, powerful, engaging, and sometimes challenging, blended scotch is generally designed to appeal to a wider customer base, being well-balanced and smooth and suited to more people's palates. While these whiskies can be sensual, wonderfully constructed, rich whiskies with great subtle complexities, more often than not they are made out of barely legal whiskies (3-4 years old) from tired casks (maturation vessels which have been used too many times to yield much flavour). But it is also for this reason that the art of blending is so respected; in combining various casks that would simply not be good enough for release as a single malt, blended whiskies become more than the sum of their parts. They account for 90-95% of all Scottish whisky sales worldwide and the best of them win as many awards and accolades as single malts in blind tastings.
Kings Legend is an odd blend owned by Diageo but only available in a few markets (if they have this where you live, email me. I would love to know). I got it in Norway a few months ago. You may remember it from the Royal Norwegian Cocktail Competition. I cannot find any good information about the blend's history or contents in any of my books. Sorry. If you have any info, I would love to receive it. I have had it a few times since buying it over ice and it has been quite pleasant. Now lets subject it to a sensory interrogation.
White toast with butter, pumpkin pie and spice, vanilla ice cream. Light and thin, slightly petrolic, with toffeed sweetness and cooked pasta. Some smoke, too. Appetising and cakey.
Thin mouthfeel, soft then hot, integrated flavours of maple, saunas, envelope glue, and banana. Faint sherry and smoke through the finish that sits in the middle of the tongue.
A bit hot to the tongue, but perfectly pleasant blended whisky. Drinking this stuff over ice eliminates the tongue heat and really lets the smoke and vanilla-balance shine. No doubt a high grain content (80%?), but the vanilla and waffle-type tastes from the grains are really luscious. The sherry and peat from the malts are present and notable, but it is the creamy, vanilla-ed bourbon cask Speysiders in here that really make this the drinkable and affordable blend that it is. Enjoy it, Scandinavia!
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