A tale of two blends

Blended whisky astonishingly is still liked upon with distant by many for no apparent reason other than they once tried a blend and didn’t like it.

The mere fact they are happy to dislike a single malt and still announce to the world that’s the category is superiors baffling. We all know the blends that are considered poorer but the fact the sales outstrip the single malt market by a massive margin shows us dismissing blends is foolish to say the least..

They say the blend market accounts for around 90% of whisky sales and that is staggering until you realise that figure is almost certainly wrong ! Unless you sell your whisky as a single cask then technically all other whisky is a blend, it is a set of different components added together to produce a finished article, or in other simpler terms different casks of whisky are blended together to produce a whisky.

There are of course technical terms like blended whisky, blended malt, blended grain, but it all amounts to the same outcome, a cask of whisky that is mixed with other casks of whisky to give you a product.

Like so many other things in life whisky has a very snobbish following and it is hard to educate many of these people, it is not about the drink itself but rather with so many it becomes a status symbol, “i must drink single malt ” seems to be a motto of so many for absolutely no reason other than they probably think that admitting to drinking a blend and god forgive them actually liking it too will somehow send them to Hell….

Blended whisky has been around for a long time and in essence the term blended whisky as we mostly know it probably started around the 1830s with the invention of the Coffey still which allowed the continuous production of whisky rather than a batch system and this brought with it the more continued use of cheaper grains like wheat and corn. This then trickled down to the Grocery shops that often sold whisky straight from the cask.

Most sales would have been straight from the cask into a jug or bottle and in order to reduce costs and obviously make more profit these casks would be topped up with some grain whisky. this did two things, firstly it reduced cost to the seller and gave a larger profit which was always welcomed and secondly it altered the taste and mouthfeel which in turn gave the consumer a better product at that time.

So it seems the technique of mixing the grain whisky with the single malt whisky came around because the style of single malt produced was rather harsh and young so the mixing of grain whisky which was believed to be a smoother product helped iron out those harsh notes.. Ironic isnt it that those who dislike blends today often tell us its harsh and young and inferior to single malt when its origins was in-fact created for the complete opposite effects.

When we look back over the years, blends have become a massive commodity and thanks to the likes of Alexander Walker who was the son of Johnnie Walker ( now why does that name ring a bell?) and Andrew Usher who are two names that were given praise for helping perfect the art of blending whisky as we know it today.

What many people don’t understand is that this technique of blending whisky is what also helped catapult whisky into a global drink rather than just a drink bought from the corner shop. Take away this very important factor in the industry and we just possibly might not be drinking whisky as we know it today…

What we all have to understand is that the blending of whisky is actually an art, it is an intricate balance of mixing individual components in order to give us a product that either outweighs its individual parts or it gives us a far more complex article. Either way blending whisky is something that should command far more respect than it does and the only way that will happen is if more of us truly understand what blending actually means.

There are some companies out there that produce whisky that when people drink the product they still don’t even realise they are drinking blended whisky and Compass Box is one of those companies.

Compass box is a company set up by John Glaser back in 2000, his thoughts were that far too many companies did things the same way and he wanted to go down a different route, a route that would surround him in controversy at times but also bring praise for products and innovations.

The idea behind Compass Box is to give us Blended whiskies ( Yes i did say blended whiskies and yes they are blended on purpose !! ) in order to further educate and offer something a little different but still hold all the qualities a single malt in todays markets can offer..

Compass Box have over the years offered some extremely interesting and glamorous blends such as “This is not a Luxury whisky” which it actually was and the famous 3 year old whisky which again was a kick in the teeth to the powers that be..

What is clear though with Compass Box is that they are not afraid to innovate and push the boundaries to the limits, they are leaders in the modern term of blenders, they are the Andy Warhol or for the more youthful drinkers out there the Banksy of the whisky industry.

The trend setters are offering us limited edition blended whiskies that tell us a story, each comes with a piece of artwork and a clever name upon its label and each offers a unique journey into the world of blended whisky but what is often overlooked within the world of Compass Box is two very good blends that come in at the entry level of whisky drinking..

Compass Box Blends

Two of the staple blends coming from Compass Box tell us a tale of two cities in Scotland and the idea is to show how the contrast each other and yet showcase such qualities that both are still impressive.

Artist Blend and Glasgow Blend offer us two whiskies that show the qualities of good blending and further showcase blended whiskies are far from those we immediately think of when the word blend is uttered..

Artist Blend

This blend of whiskies is said to be a tribute to the city of Edinburgh and its culture, a compliment to the people and surroundings and still offer and individual storyline to whisky itself.

This blend comprises of the following components which in itself are superb quality so to then blend them together should offer us a quality product if done right..

The Cameronbridge Distillery
First Fill Bourbon Barrel
45% Single Grain

A Highland Malt Blend
Custom French Oak Barrel
– Medium Toast
8% Blended Malt

The Linkwood Distillery
Revatted Palo Cortado
Sherry-seasoned Butt
5% Single Malt

The Clynelish Distillery
First Fill Bourbon Barrel
10% Single Malt

The Balmenach Distillery
First Fill Bourbon Barrel Single Malt 10%

The Linkwood Distillery
First Fill Bourbon Barrel
Single Malt 22%

What is intersting is the fact we can find the components within this blend and the word transparency is very important to Compass Box, as they say, they have nothing to hide..

Artist Blend

Both these expressions have recently received a face lift which does not in its self offer any difference to the contents but it does give me the excuse to re visit them and offer my thoughts on how i perceive them.. This expression is brought to you with an Abv of 43%, it is NCF and naturally coloured.

Nose.. Very fruity with an abundance of fresh apple peels, pear, orange and pineapple that leads into soft honeyed notes, gentle spices and a hint of freshly baked bread and toffee lurk in the background.

Palate.. Soft spices lead into those fruits and again bring gentle impressions of freshly peeled apples along with stewed apples sitting within a warm apple pie sprinkled with cinnamon and a warm vanilla custard.

Finish.. Gentle and warming

Glasgow Blend

Glasgow Blend

Again this blend of whiskies comprises a rather impressive set of ingredients..

A distillery Near the Town
of Aberlour
First Fill Sherry Butt
Single Malt 29%

A distillery Near the Town
of Aberlour
Revatted Sherry Butt
Single Malt

The Laphroaig Distillery
Rell Barrel
18.2% Single Malt

Highland Malt Blend
Custom French Oak
Cask – Heavy Toast
2.6% Blended Malt

The Clynelish Distillery
First Fill Bourbon Barrel
9.9% Single Malt

The Cameronbridge Distillery
First Fill Bourbon Barrel
Single Grain 35.2%

Once again this offering comes to us at 43% Abv, naturally coloured and Ncf.

Nose.. Smoke wraps itself around stewed fruits and soft spices before those dried fruits begin to wake. Gentle coffee notes with burnt toffee and roasted nuts.

Palate.. Smoke and earthy notes coat the mouth before the fruits eventually battle through to showcase themselves. Burnt apple pie and pineapple fritters bring some sweetness with a gentle heat coming from ginger and a little pepper.

Finish.. Warming and smokey

Overall thoughts.. Both these blends are extremely approachable and offer a contrasting experience whilst being very affordable and durable.

What we also have to consider in this instance is these two blends are single malt heavy and not grain heavy like some of the blends out there. It is often overlooked that Blended whisky can mean a multitude of things and in reality it only refers to the art of mixing two or more components in any order. Just remember that a blend can infact be equal parts, or any percentage and in some cases even a teaspoon of liquid can turn a “single malt” into either a “vatted malt”, “blended malt” or a “blended whisky”

Its easy to see why these two blends fall into both the on trade and general whisky drinking categories, for the bar tenders and cocktail makers they offer quality, flavoursome, versatile options while the general drinker can expect a whisky that will give them a very easy drinking and pleasant experience whilst not getting in the way of whatever they are doing but they also offer the opportunity to let you breakdown the experience and Annalise what you have within your glass..

So the next time someone offers you a blended whisky just think before you dismiss it.. It might just rock your world.

Both these samples were received officially from Compass Box for review purpose only.

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