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Issue 24 - Blending blocks

Whisky Magazine Issue 24
July 2002


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Blending blocks

Drink writer of the year Dave Broom investigates what exactly makes up a blend- and how blenders are steering away from old-school terminology to describe their art

It all started at a distillery (names don't really matter here, as we will see). A discussion that was meant to be about whether we can talk terroir in whisky had, in the way of these things, ended up with a discussion of how important specific malts are to certain blends.

God, I have an exciting life sometimes.

Two of the assembled throng were saying something along the lines of: “Blend X always has a high percentage of malt Y in its makeup. It's different for Blend Y but the principle is the same. These two malts make up the core of the blend.” The blender looked pained.

“Well …” he started. “Not quite. They're there, don't get me wrong but we don't think in terms of percentages, but flavours. They'll provide some of the flavour we want but always the same amount? Not necessarily.” Cue a look of panic in the questioners' faces. “But that's what we've been told! That's what we've been telling everyone who comes on one of our consumer evenings.” You can understand their distress. But as the discussion continued so a new picture of blending came into focus, a way of looking at how blends are created not by following a recipe but in terms of flavour. Call them flavour blocks, or groupings, as Jim Beveridge prefers to call them. I contacted a few blenders and asked them about this idea of groups, of whether names and numbers really matter. “If someone says to me is a blend which contains 40% malt better than one with 20% I'd say they're missing the point...

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