Back to the grind,
If you can get Campbeltown Loch 21 (£25 in UK) the you are doing well.
Isle of Skye 8 is stylish and smoky and Black Bottle is excellent and full of Islay Taste as is Islay Mist 8.
Dew of Ben Nevis is very smooth, much smoother than the Ben Nevis Malt. The red and blue labels are the best to get and the 12 year old is very sweet, almost liqueurish.
A good book to get on blended whisky is Jim Murray's 'Classic Blended Scotch'. It's a little out of date and I don't agree with everything in it but I've made some great discoveries since buying it and reading it.
Single malts and for that matter Vatted malts too are way more pronounced in flavor. Too pronounced for most wich was why blends were created in the first place. In my opinion Vatted malts still hold this although they seem more rounded in taste then a single malt but still more refined then the smooth blends.
As for good blends, Isle Of Skye, JW Black, Ballantines especially the 17, J&B (yeah yeah, try it blind among other standard blends and we'll see) and Famous Grouse Gold are all pretty good blends. None can be compared with single malts, but that was never the intention and also not the question here. There are probably many more that are great, but personally I'm still exploring blends and these are clear in my mind for now.
Personally I can see why blends are here, but I am not quite certain about Vatted malts. Apart from Compass box most vatted malts were very dissapointing and deffinatly not worth buying. Just my total subjective opinion ofcourse.
I have been led to believe that an important reason for the creation of blends may have been partly to do with taste, but it was more to do with cost - it's much cheaper to make grain whisky than single malt, and so its cheaper to produce a blend (grain whisky flavoured with some malt, perhaps no more than a third in the mix) than a single or vatted malt.
The creation of "super premium" (more expensive than single malts, sometimes!) blends is a relatively recent phenomenon? Royal Salute was probably one of the first back in the early 1950s, but the "category" only took off in the late-1980s-1990s?
My preference for purchasing is almost always single malts, though...
thoughts on blends? Why, sure. You take 20 to 50 single malts and mix them to even out their strength´s and characteritic properties to level out their taste to create one taste out of the multitudes that there are. You mix that with high proof grain whisky to thin the result of your leveling out and to be able to sell it cheap. That in itself is no wrong. You dilute the mixture with water to the minimal strength permitted by law to get more yield to sell even cheaper and you take away even more character taste and flavour and weaken the alcohol that carries the aromas. In the end you chill-filter because your barley bree will turn cloudy and hazy when cooled and again you take out components that carry flavour. What you have now you call a blended whisky.
Show me one that is not diluted and bottled in cask strength and I might become a fan.
In the meantime everyone to their own liking. Don`t let me water yer whisky and enjoy what you like.
Compass Box Hedonism (all-grain blend) is also excellent, and I have a 40yo Alloa single grain that's stellar - of course, that's not a blend.
Going further afield, Black Bush (Irish) and the Forty Creek Canadian whiskies are also ones I'd recommend.
These experiences: five separate Jim Murray tasting events - where blends, vatted and single malts were tasted blind... The last and freshest in my mind was this last Tuesday in Vancouver (11 whiskies - 3 blends, 1 vatted and 7 single malts). Two blends were evident - but still very enjoyable - the third was a shock to me and the other 130 people in the room: Ballantines 17 year old.
So - without trying to sway anyone's opinion - I would recommend experimenting with some singles and blends in a blind format; have some fun... shock your friends (or not) and see if there aren't a few surprises hiding behind diminutive (read: blended) labels...
I'd agree that most blends are "cheaper" products, stretched with grain whiskies and often bottled at 40% and with a few other corners cut more in the interest of profits over quality... yet, I don't believe that there aren't corners being cut in the single malt space (chill filtering, adding caramel and bottling below 46%, etc.)...
I also believe that if we are willing and able to open ourselves to variety and experimentation with an open mind we can find gems in both camps (or die trying)...
Cheers to all, and good night.
I would like to add that I have nothing against blends. I see the historic dimension and what blending did for whisky overall. I am aware that the single malts make 5% of the world whisky market and that 95% of that market are blends. I am aware that many single malts would be extinct by now if it were not for the blending industry. But I see no sense in comparing a blend to any malt. To say that blends are are better than malts is like saying a loaf of bread is better than the wheat.
I know the expression that the whole is more than the sum oft its parts. After all German psychologists coined it before the ugly war. I just do not think that it applies in the case of malts and blends. Blends are in a class of their own as are malts. Mixing them in any kind of comparative evaluation is nonsense and unfair. What you can say is that blends are overall more pleasing less demanding and because of all the efforts that have been taken in leveling their individual components probably more complex and in a way finer and more secretive in the taste and flavour. They are easier to savour more open and more secretive at the same time. Making good blends is an art.
But all of that reminds me of the "What is whisky?" debate in 1909. The malt distillers tried to prevent that grains were allowed to be called whisky but a court ruled that they could. In logic it is not allowed to compare two classes with each other, to compre apples and pears. So why malts and blends. Or malts and grains.
PS I have tried several blends and many were fine. And thank you WestVanDave I quite forgot to mention the colouring.
younger grain whiskies can be a bit fierce on the palate but just like malts they do mellow with age. Some old Invergordons, (Dewar Rattray, Clan Denny, Duncan Taylor), are excellent. Hedonism by Compass Box is made up Carsebridge and Cameron Brig and is a fine tipple. I find grains can be quite bourbon like. Quite a few Grains now on the market thanks to the independants, Cadenhead, Duncan Taylor and Douglas Laing, (aka Clan Denny).
BruceCrichton wrote:Campbeltown Loch 21 is still available. You should try that.
I'll keep it in mind, if I come across some. I have one last unopened bottle of the 25 that won't be opened for a long while, since it's basically irreplaceable.
As for the Alloa 40yo single-grain I've been slowly but steadily drawing down, it's quite good. It reminds me of a very mellow bourbon (as The Dazzler has pointed out). It's also the oldest "single" of any kind that I've had... and it matched my age when I bought it!
Next-up, $1.25 for a sample of Ardbeg10! Now that did away with the bad taste in my mouth and put the smile back on my face.
A blend by any other name is yet just another blend. They should've called them "blands", that seems more fitting an apellation.
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