Blends a Missed Opportunity?

23rd of May, 2017 | Posted in Features | Email Article | Print Article

Single Malt is King? Right now, as a statement, that’s hard to argue with, and yet when you break it down, you quickly realise just how much of a fallacy it is.

So, other than the obvious, what is the real difference between a blended whisky and a
single malt?

The short answer? About several million cases in sales and a good PR job.

Right now, single malts are the sexier product, but this hasn’t always been the case – they aren’t even the leading selling style of whisky in many countries around the world.

In fact, though they’ve seen rapid growth since their introduction in the early 60s, single malt whisky still only makes up around 25% of export sales around the world, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.

Like all good pop stars, the success of single malt whisky is built upon the hard work of other artists – which in this case are blended whiskies.

Sadly, much like those great artists from other mediums who do all the hard work, so others can go on to take the fame, blends have fallen by the wayside and – particularly in the UK – have been consigned to the same bin as the age old stereotypes that say whisky is an old man’s drink.

That’s why I believe the case should be made for blends – they aren’t the poor relations of single malts, mass produced to sate the demand of other nations, they are, in their own right, something to be enjoyed and ultimately lauded by our great whisky producing nation.

Marketers seem to be the prime architects in the decline of these once noble drams, reducing them to coverage on the odd billboard or having them appear around Christmas time in TV ads that would look better placed in the 70s.

Even single grains, under the stewardship of a certain ex-footballer, (picutred above!) are getting more limelight from whisky company marketing teams, with snazzy bottles that look like they’d be more fitting on a shelf filled with aftershave, and slick ads with young, successful people “breaking the rules” at high society parties.

So, where is the love for blended whisky? Why can’t we match the enthusiasm of other countries around the world for brands like Johnnie Walker, Ballantine’s, Chivas Regal and Dewars?

A lot of it comes down to the perception that blends are the whisky of the past, the type drunk in musty old man’s clubs by old rich men smoking cigars, in Chesterfield chairs.

Or, according to the potent snobbery of some corners of whisky fandom, that they are mass-produced, low-quality whiskies that are better served with mixers than enjoyed neat like
single malts.

As a counter argument, I’d like to challenge these beliefs.

First off, like it or not, blending is an art, and master blenders are artists. Anyone who has tried to make their own blend will tell you it’s bloody hard to find the right balance, never mind create something that’s actually enjoyable, yet these men and women do so, and have done for hundreds
of years.

Blends

The idea that blends are just for mixing is even more deplorable – there are some truly outstanding examples out there that contain some truly exciting whiskies that are perfect for being enjoyed neat from a Glencairn like a single malt.

Rediscovering premium blends like The Dimple Pinch, Islay Mist, Royal Salute and Chivas Regal 15 or 18 year old can be a joy to behold.

Even some of the bigger brands have sharpened up their acts of late, be it Grants with their delightful cask editions, Johnnie Walker with
their platinum label, or Ballantine’s with their
aged range.

What’s more, some more recent companies have taken up the baton and brought the blend kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Step forward Compass Box, who have created some truly outstanding expressions like their Asyla, Oak Cross and Great King St whiskies, That Boutique-y Whisky Company with their excellent regular blended releases.

All good whisky fans are lovers of experiences, most are excited by the prospect of trying the next big Japanese single malt, or the latest Single Pot Still whiskey from Ireland, so why then balk at the idea of trying a blend?

It seems silly to cut off this Aladdin’s cave of delightful Scotch whiskies, when it’s another level of great drams to be experienced and enjoyed, and often for a fraction of the cost of now overly-priced single malts.

Blends are just the next logical step up from the marriage of single malt casks and, like single malts, range from the OK to the incredible.

Besides, without the noble blend, the industry would never have been anywhere as successful as it is – they were the catalyst that turned what was once a loose collection of croft distillers into the multi-billion pound industry it is today.

So, next time you’re out drinking and someone offers you a blend instead of your usual malt, don’t turn your nose up and deride them for their “terrible choice”, maybe smile and swallow your pride, accept their kind offer of a dram that probably will taste a hell of a lot better than you’ve given it credit for.

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