Friday, June 29, 2018

Blends: The Devil Is In The Detail

The line-up.
In the middle of an incredible June heatwave and despite the competing attraction of England v Belgium in the World Cup, we gathered upstairs at the Briton's Protection for June's Manchester Whisky Club tasting, showcasing a selection of blends.

Our six blends.
Anna had curated the line-up and started off by telling us that she wanted to put a few myths about blended whisky to rest.

There's a long-standing misconception that blends are always that bit inferior to single malts. Frankly, single malts have for quite some time been simply a lot cooler. So Anna introduced six whiskies aimed at celebrating the best of blends, and shaking a few of us out of our single malt blinkers.

First up we were in Campbeltown and J&A Mitchell, maker of club favourite Springbank, for a blended offering called Spirit of Freedom 45.

Spirit of Freedom 45.
The '45' on this occasion relates not just to the 45% ABV but also to the 45% of Scots who voted Yes in the 2014 referendum, as well as the 45 different whiskies featured in the blend itself. Just in case you were in any doubt about the political subtext of all this, the bottle blazes a blue-and-white saltire flag.


The whisky itself was a sharp and summery dram, although it wasn't universally popular. Tasting notes in the room included vinegar and plantain. We thought that trying to knit together 45 whiskies in one was possibly something that was holding it back. It offers good value though, at £25.

It was off to Japan for dram number two and more from Ichiro, which has often featured at the club in the past for its single malts.

Ichiro's Malt and Grain
In this case we were trying Ichiro's Malt and Grain, a blend of whiskies from not just Japan, but also Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the US, making it a real world blend. The fact Japanese whisky is at the heart of it was fairly clear from the distinctive oily taste. This one also had a very dry finish, almost like sandpaper, which put some drinkers in mind of a decent dessert whisky.

At 46% and £72 we thought this wasn't the best price point, though, and that while it was nice, that price tag represents an element of paying extra for the Ichiro name.

Exotic Cargo.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was represented with whisky number three, Exotic Cargo. On this occasion the second batch released under this name by SMWS, clocking in at 50% and at £47 for members (although good luck finding one still available from a secondary source for anything like that).

While the first two whiskies were more conventional blends of malts and grains, this was the first of two blended malts - that is, a mixture of single malts only, and given the age statement of the youngest dram in the bottle (in this case, 11 years old).

A bit of a departure for SMWS, famed for their exceptional single malts, this really was very nice indeed. A Christmassy sweetness with flavours such as brandy butter, brown sugar and dried banana, it went down very well all round.

Poit Dhubh 12yo
After a half-time break it was time for Anna to try her best Gaelic and introduce us to the Poit Dhubh, which translates as 'black pot'. Another blended malt, this time a 12-year-old, it's made by the Praban na Linne company based on the Isle of Skye. The recipe is apparently a closely guarded secret although internet sleuths have detected neighbouring Talisker, along with Caol Ila and Tobermory.

This one wields a big stick. Hits you hard from the off, "like a Saturday night in Leith" as someone suggested. If you like Talisker you'll probably like this, but if you don't, you might well not be so keen. It's 43% and £38

Collectivum XXVIII
The most expensive bottle of the night was number five, the Collectivum XXVIII from Diageo, coming in at £150. This was part of the drinks giant's annual 'special release' range, and was the first time it had featured a blend. In this case, a bit from each of the 28 operational distilleries run by Diageo, ranging from well-known names such as Lagavulin and Royal Lochnagar to plenty of more obscure ones.

These releases are eagerly awaited each year. And for us, it certainly lived up to hype. Complex yet subtle while certainly spirity, club members thought this was very well made. All of the whiskies in this range are bottled at cask strength, and this was 57.3%.

Arguably the bad boys of whisky, Compass Box, were responsible for the last whisky of the tasting. As if to amplify their hipster credentials, this particular whisky officially has no name, somewhat in the manner of that Sigur Ros album.

Compass Box No Name.
The idea here is that the whisky simply speaks for itself, and doesn't need a name. On the other hand, you might regard this as pretentious nonsense. But this was certainly a good whisky. By far the peatiest dram of the night, it was all peat and smoke, albeit not quite on the levels of a Port Charlotte.

It's mostly Ardbeg with a bit of Caol Ila and Clynelish in there too, and even our resident Ardbeg-hater sort of almost didn't quite totally hate it, so that's something. It's £100 and 48.9% - some thought this represented great value, but for the money others would have shopped elsewhere. It's mostly sold out anyway though.

The dram of the night voting went the way of Diageo's special release, the Collectivum XXVIII, although both Compass Box and Exotic Cargo had their supporters too.

Thanks to Anna for picking out such a great and interesting selection for us, and to club members old and new for coming down and making it such an enjoyable evening. Thanks also to the Britons for their hospitality once again.

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