Love good quality Scotch but don’t want to spend too much on a bottle? Well, don’t overlook blended whisky, says Ian Buxton. From the big boys like Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s to scrappy upstarts like Blaze, quality has never been higher.
I can’t say I feel all that sorry for whisky sales folk, but there is a small place in my heart for those trying to sell blended whiskies, especially in the UK. It can’t be much fun.
Though blends still make up almost nine out of every ten bottles of Scotch whisky sold around the world there can be no doubting the significance of single malts in the UK. They certainly dominate the conversation amongst whisky fans and receive arguably more than their fair share of the distillers’ marketing budgets and retailer’s shelves.
But while that makes the selling of blends all the harder, conversely it turns out that there are some relative bargains to be found lurking in plain sight, especially amongst premium blends. By that, I don’t mean ultra-expensive one-off releases such as Johnnie Walker’s recent Masters of Flavour 48 Years Old (a snip at £20,000) but those styles – often around 12 years old – that are just one jump up from the basic blend. They’re frequently both remarkably tasty and remarkably affordable as the different blenders seem to compete keenly around this point and deliver value with great flavour.
You can find the perfect blend
For exhibit one consider Cutty Sark, once a popular call in UK and US cocktail bars for its light, bright flavour and great mixability. That still works well, and the recent change of ownership to France’s La Martiniquaise has seen the blend back on song but consider this – for a couple of quid you can trade up to the fuller flavour and markedly higher strength (50% ABV) of Cutty Sark Prohibition. It’s a lot more bang for your buck. Moreover, having recently tasted an advance sample, I can say with confidence that the new Cutty Sark 12 year old, soon to arrive in the UK, is a distinct step up from the standard bottle.
Or consider Dewar’s. If you can find them the Double Double range shows off the blending expertise of Stephanie Macleod that has brought her the acclaim of her peers (she has been awarded the title Master Blender of the Year a remarkable three years running by the International Whisky Competition). But her skills and Dewar’s deep stocks also show well in the 12 and 15 Years Old expressions. For the price of a couple of nips you can trade up from the regular style to the 12 Year Old and, frankly, you should.
I could and do say the same for Johnnie Walker. It’s not the best-selling Scotch whisky in the world for nothing but, in the froth surrounding single malts, it’s easy to forget just how good it is. And, if I’m not mistaken, how much better it has got in recent years. I had formed the view that I didn’t really care for the Johnnie Walker Black 12 Year Old version on the grounds that it was somewhat harsh and smoky. Well, it might have been once, but returning recently to taste the brand after some years I was bowled over by the balance, subtlety and complexity that it delivers – and all with change from thirty quid.
If none of these appeal then the only answer is to have a go yourself. The Master of Malt Blend Your Own Whisky option allows you to create your very own blend, altering the composition of the various components to your hearts’ content in the sure and certain knowledge that your blend will be bespoke and in all probability completely unique.
Don’t overlook blended whisky
It might even be life-changing. Like 19 year old Diarmaid McCann from Inverkip (it’s on the Clyde just down the river from Gourock) you could go into business. Determined to take on the giants of the industry, he’s created his own blend Blaze Scotch Whisky which he markets via social media, especially TikTok. Emboldened by the sale of 250 bottles he’s dropped out of Edinburgh University with the ambition to create a blended malt brand “without the pretension or traditionalism of the industry that can unleash the full potential of each spirit” and, he claims, over the next decade “take on the titans of the spirits industry”.
Believing that social media marketing is in its infancy and aiming to create personal relationships with every buyer he poses the question “While everyone else focuses on how their bottle looks on the store shelf, we ask how does this look on Amazon? How does this come across on the TikTok FYP? Well, God loves a trier, so they say. According to his website, Blaze is “blended for cocktails, enjoyed by all mixed, [and] fantastic neat for the aficionados.” Best of all it’s £30 and there’s a guarantee of enjoyment or your money back. What could possibly go wrong?
And, at least, unlike some of the industry it sounds like he’s having fun.