The Art of Blending Whisky

by
April 19, 2018

Blended whisky still gets a bad rap in whisky circles. It’s often seen as an inferior product, compared to the great single malts of Scotland. This notion, however, is simply incorrect. Some of the most balanced whiskies in the world are blends—voted as some of the best time and time again. While it’s taken a while to get there, consumers are finally beginning to see the beauty of blended expressions.

Globally, the Hibiki range by Suntory has been, perhaps, the most instrumental premium blend to boost the category, having amassed more awards than any other blend out there—followed closely by Nikka’s Taketsuru range.

Over in Scotland, the blended push is also underway. The Johnnie Walker series has positioned itself as a premium blend, with its Blue, Green, Gold Reserve and limited releases. Pure Scot, by the re-invented Bladnoch, defines itself as the blend of the modern whisky drinker.

THE BLEND

The most impressive push towards modernizing blended whisky has come with the Chivas Regal initiative titled, The Blend.

The event, which began in London last year, educates drinkers on the techniques behind making a blended whisky.

Blending Whisky: Whisky at The BlendThe Blend / Photo Credit: Chivas Regal UK

The concept is simple. Supplied with five small bottles—labelled fruity, smoky, creamy, citrus and floral—guests are invited to create their own, personalized blended whisky. The floral bottle is vatted grain whisky, while the others are single malts. After an explanation by one of the Chivas brand ambassadors, attendees get to blending.

After a huge debut success, this year, the event is being held all over the UK.

THE CHALLENGE OF THE BLENDER

I was lucky enough to attend The Blend and speak with the hosts, representatives from Chivas.

I began by tasting each bottle on its own. Chivas UK brand ambassador, Scott Lever, recommended we use a good amount of the grain bottle as a base.

Blending Whisky: Creating a blendThe Blend / Photo Credit: Chivas Regal UK

I added a hefty amount from the smoky bottle, plus some from the citrus and the fruity. Then, just a touch of creamy. I was looking to recreate a light, fruity expression with notes of smoke, peat and earth—the Kilchoman Machir Bay and Yamazaki Peated come to mind. I poured my final 200ml concoction into the supplied glass bottle, and that’s it. My very own blended whisky.

“The aim is to get people to understand whisky blending in a fun, educational way,” says Lever. “Especially from the scope of a master blender, who creates thousands of liters, consistently. The whiskies going in are never the same, but the final product has to be. If I brought you five other whiskies now and asked you to create the blend in your bottle it would be hard, right?”

CREATE YOUR OWN BLEND AT HOME

Whisky blending is, without a doubt, a very complicated job. The Blend, however, wonderfully simplifies the process. The most fun part? You can do it at home!

Blending Whisky: Creating a blendThe Blend / Photo Credit: Chivas Regal UK

Grab your favorite Islay whisky, a sherry cask-aged expression, or another one of your own favorites. Get some grain in there and start blending. Taste everything beforehand, and visualize what you want to achieve. Will it be a smoky expression? A smooth, subtle blend like the Hibiki? A more powerful, intense expression, like Nikka From The Barrel?

Glenfiddich brand ambassador, Mark Thomson, hones in on the objective.

“Balance is what makes a blend great,” he states. “Add little by little, stir, and allow the whiskies to sit for a while. The longer it’s left, the more it will develop.”


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