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Thoughts on Blends

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Thoughts on Blends

Postby Badmonkey » Thu Nov 24, 2005 3:25 am

The Badmonkey swung by his local purveyor of fine malts this evening. Not only was I delighted to see the Murray McDavid collection expand, but several premium blends are now on the shelves at reasonable Alberta prices. I haven't purchased a blended scotch in years -- Pinch was the last one, about 8 years ago -- so I'm curious to hear some opinions from those of you who really enjoy blends. A buddy of mine swears by Johnny Walker Green Label; I plead ignorance.

Back to the grind,

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Postby Admiral » Thu Nov 24, 2005 3:30 am

Well, JW Green is a vatted malt, not a blend, so strictly speaking it doesn't qualify. (Although IMHO, it's a pretty ordinary whisky by any definition).

I hardly ever drink blends, so I don't really have anything constructive to add to the conversation. :wink:

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Frodo » Thu Nov 24, 2005 4:43 am

Judging by the general interest stated on these posts, I think this is going to be a short thread!
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Postby Lord_Pfaffin » Thu Nov 24, 2005 5:31 am

I almost didn't mind the Compass Box "Peat Monster" and in my final summation: Waste!.........More prudent to spend the hard earned coin on a SM!
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Postby JWFokker » Thu Nov 24, 2005 7:54 am

I've had a couple of Chivas Regals, a couple of Johnnie Walkers and some Dewars, and they just don't compare to the distinctiveness of a single malt. They're a bit of a mishmash, not helped at all by mixing grain alcohol in with the malt whisky. They don't have any sense of individuality to me. Chivas Regal is almost unpalatably bland in my opinion. JW Black is good, but makes me wish I were drinking Talisker instead. That said, they aren't necessarily bad whiskies, it's just that the different whiskies that constitute the blend just get in each others' way. JWB will always be better to me, than Tamdhu or Bowmore 12. Hell, I'd probably choose it over Cragganmore too. Blends can be decent whiskies, they'll just never be as good as a good single malt.
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Postby Iain » Thu Nov 24, 2005 8:04 am

Have a look at Jim Murray's Whisky Bible - he rates many blends more highly than some well-known malts.

Teachers, Islay Mist 17 and Isle of Skye are among his favourites.
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Postby Aidan » Thu Nov 24, 2005 8:54 am

Blends have all the potential to be as good as malts, and in many cases are. I know most will disagree with me, however.

The thing is, I am pretty sure the best malt is kept for single malt whisky.


Edit: I think Johnnie Walker Black is superb.
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Postby nicholtl » Thu Nov 24, 2005 8:57 am

2 blended whiskies that I think anyone would be hard-pressed to bash, even when compared to the finest of single-malts, are Ballantines 21 and 30 year. They are so lush, rich, flavorful, and complex, words can't even begin to describe...
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Postby BruceCrichton » Thu Nov 24, 2005 1:29 pm

JW black is the best place to start. If you don't like that, then you don't like blended whisky. JW Gold is sweet like golden syrup and honey. The distillery manager at Cardhu recommends it chilled. :shock:

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.
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Postby slojo » Thu Nov 24, 2005 1:44 pm

Had some JW Green Label recently. Without being particularly distinctive, it is also very pleasant. Would never buy it over a SM though.
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Postby BruceCrichton » Thu Nov 24, 2005 2:06 pm

There are plenty of good vatted malts out there but JW Green, while pleasant and smooth, is not outstanding.

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.
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Postby Wendy » Thu Nov 24, 2005 3:20 pm

Maybe someone one could confirm this for me, but my understanding is that when someone refers to blends, they are meaning a mixture of grain and malt whiskies. An example would be Compass Box Asyla, whereas Peat Monster is a Vatted Malt. In tasting and nosing, is it reasonable to expect something different in terms of basic taste expressions and characteristics that is intrinsic with a vatted malt, single malt or a blend of grain and malt? or for that matter, is it fair game to compare Asyla to Cragganmore 12, although it is one of Asyla's lead whiskies. I also think that if you are not a fan of (for example) Cragganmore 12, it does not necessarily set precedent for not enjoying a blend that has it as part of a particular bottling. Basically, it all comes down to taste preference and where you want to spend your money. But, generally speaking, I am trying to understand the need to compare a blend to a single malt. I am by no means a champion of blends; I have only tasted a few. I just find this discussion quite interesting.

Cheers,
Wendy
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Postby BruceCrichton » Thu Nov 24, 2005 4:35 pm

Wendy, a blended whisky. by definition, is a mix of malt and grain whiskies.

It's very rare that I compare a blend to a malt unless the malt. like Ben Nevis, is quite rough.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Nov 24, 2005 4:46 pm

I find blends (except the real cheapies) to be very smooth - more so than most single malts. I rather thought that was the point of a blend.
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Postby Tom » Thu Nov 24, 2005 6:42 pm

Nick I tend to agree with your point, the main reason for excistence for a blend is accessebility for the big audience. Premium blends may be marketed at us malt lovers however, but not the standard and deluxe blends. In a blend it seems common that there is sweetness, smoothness and caramel/toffee flavors present. It takes more time to distinguish grain from malt then most blend drinkers are willing to put into it. But if you start trying doing so, blends get a whole new dimension.

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.
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Postby Iain » Thu Nov 24, 2005 7:39 pm

Tom, re "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.."

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?
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Nov 24, 2005 10:08 pm

Yes, in my mind blends are like mass-produced beers that use a high percentage of rice and corn because they are cheaper than barley. But that's my prejudice; to each his own.
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Postby Badmonkey » Fri Nov 25, 2005 4:29 am

Many thanks for the recommendations and opinions, everyone.

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Postby MGillespie » Fri Nov 25, 2005 5:18 am

I don't mind JW Black occasionally at a bar, especially if the single malt selection is limited...and I'll agree with those who think the JW Green is a bit pedestrian. It could have been much more interesting, and perhaps they'll tweak the blend over time.

My preference for purchasing is almost always single malts, though...

Mark
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Postby bond » Fri Nov 25, 2005 10:53 am

Apart from J W Black, try Dewar's Special Reserve.

Rich and full bodied, it will help you build a fair amount of respect for blends.

I would have said Black Bottle too but its not what it used to be.
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Postby kallaskander » Fri Nov 25, 2005 5:22 pm

Hi there,

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.

Greetings
kallaskander
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Postby Iain » Sat Nov 26, 2005 12:39 am

So I take it you're not in agreement with Jim Murray, Mr K :)

To strike my own colours, I should state that I'm more with you than with the Murray view on this. But willing to listen and learn.
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Postby Badmonkey » Sat Nov 26, 2005 6:47 am

Mr. K,

Please stop mincing words. Tell us what you really think! :)

Just kidding, of course. I asked for opinions and expected to get the full range. I am grateful for people taking the time to share theirs on the board, both positive and negative.

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Postby Crispy Critter » Sat Nov 26, 2005 7:24 am

Of the few blended Scotches I've tried, the now-extinct Campbeltown Loch 25 was definitely the best - but Compass Box Asyla is a close second, and it's not extinct. That being said, I wouldn't turn down a JW Black or Chivas Regal 12. I've long ago dropped the "only single malts are worth it" thing. ;)

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.
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Postby WestVanDave » Sat Nov 26, 2005 7:46 am

You know - a few months ago I would have been right there with Kallaskander beating the Single Malt drum and snubbing my nose at the mere mention of a blend - but then I've had a few experiences that opened my eyes...

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. :shock:

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)... :wink:

Cheers, Dave.
Last edited by WestVanDave on Wed Dec 07, 2005 8:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Badmonkey » Sat Nov 26, 2005 7:53 am

Thanks for sharing, Dave, though I fear you are trying to drive me mad with envy following the unfortunate cancellation of the Edmonton tasting.

Time spent on this forum is driving me to drink!
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Postby WestVanDave » Sat Nov 26, 2005 8:14 am

"though I fear you are trying to drive me mad with envy "

That was my motivation...

January and the Victoria Whisky Festival is just around the corner - as is the hope that we can rekindle a Tasting Event in Edmonton the following week...

Carry on drinking Craig - it's great practice.

Cheers, Dave.
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Postby Badmonkey » Sat Nov 26, 2005 8:56 am

As it turns out I will likely make the trip out to Victoria, and I am trying rustle up my disparate crew of whisky drinkers from far corners of the north, California, and Calgary to meet me there. Work should slow down in 2 or 3 weeks, leaving me more time to indulge my whisky fantasies and engage society outside the office again.

Cheers to all, and good night.
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Postby kallaskander » Sat Nov 26, 2005 10:26 am

Hi there,

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.

Greetings
kallaskander

PS I have tried several blends and many were fine. And thank you WestVanDave I quite forgot to mention the colouring.
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Postby BruceCrichton » Sun Nov 27, 2005 6:59 pm

Crispy Critter wrote:Of the few blended Scotches I've tried, the now-extinct Campbeltown Loch 25 was definitely the best


Campbeltown Loch 21 is still available. You should try that.

Who here has drunk single grain whisky? If you have have, what did you think about it?
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Postby The Dazzler » Sun Nov 27, 2005 7:13 pm

Bruce,

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).

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Postby BruceCrichton » Sun Nov 27, 2005 7:45 pm

I've had a few grain whiskies but the only one i drink regularly is Cameron Brig which is still popular in pubs, in Fife.
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Postby Crispy Critter » Wed Dec 07, 2005 4:47 am

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! :shock:
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Postby BruceCrichton » Wed Dec 07, 2005 6:22 pm

CL 21 is available from Royal Mile Whiskies.
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Postby Lord_Pfaffin » Wed Dec 07, 2005 10:11 pm

Jonny Walker "Blue Label" at the tasting tower, with a heafty price-tag at $250cdn, which cost me $6cdn for a taste (quarter ounce). I must say that the malt taste was exquisite, but too much spirit came through for a bottling of this supposed virtuous value. My next impression was that of a typical cheep blend, and then i realized why it is said to be so highly overrated, and can't imagine where they got the stones to charge so much for utter tripe. :evil:
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. :lol:
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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