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Issue 98 - A Case for Blends

Whisky Magazine Issue 98
September 2011


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A Case for Blends

Gavin D. Smithis a regular contributor to Whisky Magazine and the author of more than a dozen books about whisky, along with several on beer and Scottish history. He is also contributing editor of www.whiskypages. com. He lives in the Scottish Borders and drinks malts and blends with equal enthusiasm.

A few weeks ago I visited the remnants of Kennetpans distillery, situated near Kincardine and close to the banks of the River Forth. Kennetpans operated for a century, from around 1720, and in 1733 it was Scotland's biggest distillery in terms of output. Today, £1 million is required to stabilise and preserve the historic ruins, owned by local businessman Bryan Frew and his wife, Fiona.

In an ideal world, Kennetpans would be preserved just like one of Scotland's ancient castles, for its significance to the heritage of Scotch whisky is immense. Kennetpans was one of several large-scale distilleries owned by the inter-married Stein and Haig families, who were central players in the industrialisation of the Scotch whisky industry and pioneers of the production of grain spirit, which ultimately led to the development of blended whisky. The Haigs were to become synonymous with one of the most famous blended whisky brands of them all.

However, raising the cash required for Kennetpans looks like being an extremely uphill task, as prevailing attitudes towards the distillery reflect our perception of the unromanticised side of Scotch whisky, and especially blended Scotch.

We do not seem to be very engaged by its genesis, its heritage or its provenance. Why waste time on blended whisky when the world is full of wonderful single malts to explore?

Well, perhaps because the most skilfully crafted blends give many single malts a run for their money in terms of character and complexity...

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