After causing a stir with his last guest post on flippers, We’ve let James loose again, despite my better, but still reasonably poor judgement….
Balls deep with blends
By James Angus
The concept of blends goes back donkeys years.
Its origins come form the grocery stores (the original Indie bottlers) to have their own unique flavour which in time developed into a quality benchmark. I.e. I buy the blend at Mr Walkers shop as I know it’s good. Yes. There was a Mr Walker, Chivas brothers, a Mr Buchanan et al.
The story of Johnnie Walker as told by a young Robert Carlyle is a good watch (link at the end).
For some out there it’s an informative 6 minutes about the history of JW and taking in some Scottish hills. For others it’s watching Robert and thinking about riding him for fun like a seaside donkey.
Whichever is your thing.
This continued for years and the blenders made money and more importantly they bought the distilleries to protect their brands!
Also some chap invented the continuous still and grain whisky became available in a very big manner and made the process cheaper.
The next really big thing was the plothorxa (can’t spell it for shit) virus which ripped through French vineyards destroying the grape wine and brandy crops this may also explain why whisky is so popular in France aside from the fact that brandy really does taste like farmers piss.
Due to blending and being able produce different flavours, whisky was able step into the market.
Scotch then had the social acceptability.
The next big step for blends was prohibition on America. The Americans got turned down by the Irish (😅😂😅😂😅) so they came over to the blending houses of London, Glasgow and Aberdeen. The blenders produced a style in keeping with the American market taste and then sent all this blended whisky to a Mr Capone in Canada, Cuba, Bermuda etc. Apparently he was totally kosher, you could do business with him and not illegal occurred.
The Captains of those ships also became the reps or brand ambassadors for the blending houses. The phrase “the real McCoy” comes from as there and there was a Captain McCoy who was know for bringing good gear. (Cutty Sark are claiming ownership of the real McCoy.)
Times were good.
Everyone lived happily for a few years.
All bills were paid and the administrational side ran harmoniously.
The blends were really good in their own right. Some of the Bell’s and JW red I’ve had from the 70/80s are great. Cask management, yeast strains etc etc.
Then the shit hit the fan and the bottom, feet, ankles, hooves, ears and everything else dropped out of the market and everyone in the whisky business went “FUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!”
Everything shut, distilleries closed, great distilleries just shut up shop and the cull was brutal and thousands of casks were left hanging. These got swallowed by the blenders and used I guess. Even Oddbins had bottles of huge quality which were being sold cheap. Really cheap. Port Ellen was like £40 a bottle and Black Bowmore was a ton. Now it’s cheaper to finance a small military coup than try to buy one of those.
It was the bottles of blended malt and blended whisky which kept the distilleries alive during this period. Don’t argue it like a twit. It is just a fact based on pure financial viability.
You know of the cull of distilleries.
Take that cull and then remove the money from the sale of the BW and then work out how many distilleries would have then closed. More than likely your favourite distillery probably would have shut up shop
Market recovered and everyone is enjoying whisky again.
Bringing us to the present day.
The modern day blend is on a huge scale. Cheap, expensive, regional, pure malt, pure grain, mixed and everything in between.
Blends now are a very different animal and more diverse than ever.
The standards of JW, Chivas, Black Bottle, Famous Grouse, Bell’s etc have been a constant for years and although not mind blowing they are consistent & with the resurrection of the popularity in Scotch, many of blends from the indie bottlers have cone to the front and arguably the heavies have followed on from this with success. Most notably Monkeys Shoulder from Grants and Copper Dog leading the mass market charge with its cocktails. This in turn has lead to more converts to whisky thanks to the cocktail market (JW have now thrown their own bottle into this with JW Blonde and even Glenmorangie have piled in). Diageo have been knocking up premium blends, Chivas have been hitting this with their Royal Salute.
For me though it’s the indie bottlers that have really leading the heavy age, premium bottles.
North Star with Vega, Sirius and Spica. Old Perth with various ages and cask maturation.
Chapter7 doing their own, throwing shapes with a 25yo and 26yo age statement blends. The 26yo has just won a three star Taste award in a blind tasting! Not many bottles win that.
Dougie Laing with almost everything at once and other release blends of various age statements and double casks with huge success and a dedicated following and their region blends are absolutely on fucking point.
Black Bull with a 50/50 ratio have everything from a young NAS up to a 40yo and it’s all killer, no filla!
Berry Bros and Rudd have released a retrospective series of blends starting at a 21yo and then going up in age in addition to their perfectly good every day sipper range of blended scotch.
Then there’s Compass Box with just so many different bottles of blends but also with the one blend I really want to try, the legend that is Tobias and the Angels.
Little Brown Dog unearthed a gem with 20yo blended malt called Wee Mongrel made of Ex Edrington stock.
Watt Whisky put out a couple of bangers at 10yo and 19yo.
One of the first bottles put out by Sipping Shed was a 12yo blended malt and that sold out (they still have a bottle. They haven’t offered it to me for my services. It’s good exposure blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Tight arsed fucking wankers).
And there’s more out there then I can possibly list!
I still find it amusing though that so many drinkers will and are dismissing blended scotch as inferior and basically ignoring a large section of the market. Which is great for me as I can keep getting very good quality whisky for less money.
I’ll refer to the financial side of the business again as it’s still the blends that keep some distilleries open.
Like Clynelish or Caol Ila. Both great whisky. But do you honestly believe that either distillery would still be open if it wasn’t for the amount of Johnnie Walker being sold?
Then pick another distillery. See what the money side of it looks like. Work out if it’d be open without the blend money.
(There’s only a few weren’t selling their stuff to the blends market.)
Blends aren’t going anywhere soon.
Never assume that a blend is inferior because it has grain or that it’s quality because it all malt. But to think it’s inferior because it’s a blend is frankly just being a total fuckwitt and you need to apologise to a tree.
Watch the JW video here