All about blended whisky
Blended whiskies are not individual whisky types like the Scottish single malts or the U.S. straight whiskies, but blends of different varieties. The word is derived from the Old English "blandan" and the Old Norwegian "blanda" and means "to mix. Almost everywhere, blends make up the majority of whisky production.
Canada and the Flavourings
With a few exceptions, there are almost only blends in Canada. This is because Canadians traditionally attach importance to the fact that their whiskies are not primarily products of certain distilleries, but rather products of highly qualified master blenders. For example, the whisky pioneer and "Seagram" founder Samuel Bronfman made a significant statement to the effect that distillation is a science, but blending is a great art.
Canadian whiskies are usually based on high-proof distilled base whiskies, which are blended with other distillates that have a lower alcohol volume. In addition, the addition of various flavors is permitted - these are admixtures of so-called "non-Canadian whiskies. They are allowed to make up 9.09 percent per bottle. Some of the whiskies used are real whiskies such as bourbons, but fortified wines such as sherry or the popular plum wine, distilled fruit juices, maple syrup and honey are also used.
The storage time in appropriate whisky warehouses is limited to two years in Canada. Canadian whisky is also burned out somewhat more than comparatively U.S. whisky. This gives it a lighter character.
Ireland: clever combinations
In Ireland, too, the once exclusively produced pot still whiskies have long since been replaced by blends. The classic Scottish form, a blend of malt and grain distillates, can be found, as in some brands of the Bushmills or Cooley distilleries. In the case of the products of the Irish Distillers Group IDG, all of which come from Middleton, the production processes are not entirely transparent and fall more or less under the heading of "company philosophy". Nevertheless, IDG also describes whiskey making as the art of the distillers. The masters can produce quite different whiskies from different mashes and by cleverly combining pot stills with column stills. Whether they are "married" together or used individually is left open.
The Blended Americans
Basically, the history of American whiskey was troubled, which had its beginnings at the beginning of the 18th century on the East Coast. At the time of President Washington, there was even a violent whiskey uprising in Pennsylvania, which had to be put down by the military. The reason was the high taxes that the farm-owned whiskey distilleries wanted to avoid. To this end, the farmers relocated without further ado to Kentucky and southern Indiana and, with the help of the water that was particularly well suited there, distilled a whiskey from corn that was named "Bourbon" by a distiller in Georgetown, Bourbon Country, after the country in which it was produced. To maintain their qualities, other U.S. distillers continued to produce their malt whiskey with traditional bubblers, although the continuously operating patent stills had long since been introduced. Thus, as early as around 1850, the practice of blending the products of the patent distilleries with those working according to the old methods, according to carefully kept secret recipes, came into being, a practice that is still common today.
In the USA, however, blended whiskies are less important today than they were in the 1950s or 1960s. At that time, there are markedly successful brands that are comparatively light and, since times of their particular popularity, cannot deny a kinship with Canadian products of the same producers. This is also quite legitimate, because the US-Americans preferred the products of their northern neighbors already since the years of prohibition, which is quite repeated at present. The American variants are lighter and also cheaper than the straights, but they must have a twenty percent share of them. The rest may then be neutral spirit from grain - and to embellish the color, a small proportion of sherry is also legitimate. The large number of U.S. whiskey varieties and the details of their production as well as their composition are regulated in all respects by the U.S. Distilled Spirits Act. According to this, the whiskey should not be burned out higher than up to 80 percent alcohol content and then reduced to about 40 percent by volume before sale.
Scotch blends: synonyms for Scotch
Blends undoubtedly have the greatest significance in Scotland - for many, they remain synonymous with Scotch whisky in the first place. Statistics show that of every one hundred bottles of Scotch sold, about 90 percent are blends. Still most consumers, when they order a Scotch somewhere, expect a blend and not a malt.
For example, nine out of ten Scotch whisky is a blend of a barley whisky distilled in patent distilleries without a particularly distinctive character of its own with various types of malt whisky. The barley malt required for it is kilned on sieve trays over blazing peat fires. This produces the smoky aromas so characteristic of Scotch. Kilning is handled very differently in the four whisky regions of Scotland - the Lowlands, the Highlands, Islay and Campbeltown. In the Lowlands, much less is burned out than in Scotland's Highlands, whereas the barley in Campbeltown and Islay is roasted more intensively. This also gives the distillates their own character.
After storage periods of usually three to four years, often in oak casks already used for transporting sherry, they are blended by the blending masters and blended according to their specifications. Then the whiskies are stored for another three, four, eight years or even longer.
It is true that the malt was once the original Scotch whisky. But it is also true that, especially in the form it had decades ago, it was not suitable to become a beverage of more than local importance. In this respect, the Scotch malt stood in the way of precisely what gives Scotch whisky blends their success today: individual character, because even each cask of malt is different from a second.
Scotch whisky: Usher's discoveries
The fact that Scotch whisky became so popular far beyond the country's borders is thanks to two inventions: continuous distillation and the creation of the blend. The new method of distillation made it possible to produce a lighter whisky. In addition, the whole thing was also more economical, because as a starting product could be used not the high-priced malted barley, but any grain. But it was the discovery of blending this grain with the malts, so full of character, that brought the breakthrough. Interestingly, the phylloxera catastrophe in Bordeaux from 1865 to 1885 is also of some significance. For it had virtually robbed the English of their brandy, which was so extremely popular at the time.
Andrew Usher Sr. and Jr. from Edinburgh are regarded as pioneers. The elder Usher began his career as a spirits merchant in 1813, and today it is unknown what prompted him to mix the contents of different barrels - although it was well known that this practice was already being used in France for cognac. Possibly it was the proverbial thriftiness of the Scots that led Usher Sr. to combine the remains of different barrels in a new barrel. After all, he was already aware that it suited the whiskey better to be stored in barrels at all and not to be consumed, white and unripened, from stone jugs or from glass jars. 1853 is considered the year in which he finished his first blend, which strictly speaking was a vatted. This was because Usher Senior had blended only malt whiskies from Glenlivet. That's why he christened the product "Old Vatted Glenlivet".
Later, his son came up with the idea of blending not only malts with each other, but malts with grain, which could be produced by the Patent Stills invented in 1826. The new whiskey, lighter and continuously tasting and looking the same, was very quickly successful - its coloring, by the way, was stabilized by the addition of caramel. Taken as a whole, these were the foundations for a house brand, for branded whisky in general.
Usher's recipe quickly found imitators. Many of them were local wine and food merchants. They went by names like Ballantine, Chivas, Dewar, or Walker, and initially made their house blend, which became well known in the local area. Then in the 1870s they expanded their operations southward, conquering London and beyond to many parts of our world.
Usher's discovery had laid the foundation for whiskey production as a major industry and for Scotch's prominence as a successful international beverage. The great international brands can be traced back to these pioneers, who grew from fairly humble beginnings into large companies. Their owners acquired great fortunes and and, like the whisky barons that followed, also occupied important positions in the public life of their time.
Who were the whiskey barons?
Whiskey Barons was the nickname for members of the so-called "Big Five", the five largest Scotch whiskey companies, whose owners actually also came to noble honors in the course of time. Thus, an equestrian statue of Earl Douglas Haig can be seen in front of Edinburgh Castle, and brothers Thomas "Tommy" Dewar and John Alexander Dewar were knighted in 1901 and 1907, respectively, with the elder Dewar advancing to Baron Fortevoit of Dupplin in 1917 and his brother to Baraon Dewar of Homestall two years later. Peter Mackie, the driving force behind White Horse Distillers became a Baron in 1920 and James Stevenson in 1924. James Buchanan was allowed to call himself Lord Woolavington of Lavington from 1922. Although he never received a title of nobility during his lifetime, experts also count Walter Berry among the illustrious band of whiskey barons. Like the aforementioned gentlemen, he too had helped Scotch whisky to victory - and that in times that lay between the waltzes of Johann Strauss and the Charleston of the 1920s and between the two "catastrophes," Prohibition and the phylloxera disaster, which knocked whisky's main competitor, brandy, out of the field. Ironically, by the way, it was the greatest prohibitionist of his time, David Lloyd George, who, as prime minister, had to propose to his king that four whisky barons be honored - only the fifth, James Stevenson, followed suit a little later.
The art of the master blender
Whisky and its blends thus look back on a history that is as long and interesting as it is wide-ranging. Many count among the beginnings the "Uisgebeath" of the Irish, which goes back to the national saint St. Patrick, who Christianized the island in the 5th century. Some also claim that long before the beginning of our era, the ancient Phoenicians had already revealed their knowledge of the art of distillation. In any case, it is certain that the ancient monasteries, which are known to have had very extensive connections, cultivated the production of brandy - and so the reference to St. Patrick already has some justification.
"Regional whiskies" came later from many Scottish estates, the invention of the continuously working patent stills, the findings of the whisky pioneers to the prosperous whisky companies of our time continue to stand for the historical courses. The end of the development marked the blended whiskies, of which Samuel Bronfman had stated that it was an art and one can only agree.
The age of a whisky is also often overestimated. It is less important than the skills of the blendmasters and their experience, which cannot be replaced by anything. The composition of blended whisky from different starting whiskies is complete when the master blenders succeeded in creating a whisky that always tastes and looks the same. Masterblenders are responsible in their companies for selecting the whisky barrels that are ready for bottling after maturation and from which either the new tranche for a very specific bourbon or a specific single malt is combined. They also select how the next edition of a blend will be put together. They check the stored barrels for their quality and decide on the degree of maturity. That's why you meet these experts in the warehouses as well as in the companies' nosing rooms. These are soberly furnished tiled rooms with rows of sample bottles lined up on the walls, each representing a barrel. In the middle of the room is a stainless steel basin for disposing of samples. on the work table, the whiskies are provided in nosing glasses. These are darkly colored so that the color remains invisible. The whisky is never tested neat, but diluted to about 20 to 30 percent. A lid, a small glass cover, prevents the aroma from escaping. However, master blenders never drink during their work. Rather, they always test the whiskies with their nose. This is their most important organ, and it takes quite a long time for even a talented beginner to become a master blender.
The master blender has the greatest responsibility among the employees of a distillery. The quality of his work determines the satisfaction of the clientele, who expect his blend and also his single malt to be always of the same quality, aroma and taste. The master blender therefore selects from hundreds of cask samples those that guarantee this. He must determine which malt and which grain to take from to ensure quality. They often have a formula for this, but it is also subject to change because, for example, a very specific malt is not available at the moment. The blendmasters must be able to rely entirely on their sensory memory and highly trained nose. The quality of their blended whisky is always and constantly measured by the proportion of malts used.
An intermediate conclusion
Blended Scotch Whisky is therefore a Scotch whisky blend of up to 50 different whiskies, the basis of which is a grain whisky. A blend consisting of 60% grain whisky is "married" with 40% malt whisky. The "blending" produces excellent compositions, based on the intuition of the master blender. Grain spirits are distilled from wheat, corn, unmalted barley or rye - the malt from malted barley is the flavor-forming ingredient. Blends with mild-spicy flavors (Ballantine's), complex-creamy character (Johnnie Walker) as well as variations of Douglas Laing, Grant's, The Famous Grouse and many more are waiting for you in the Blended Whisky Shop. For every taste there is the right blended whisky in the delicando Whisky Shop, here you can buy your favorite blended whisky.
Interesting is once again a closer look at the blending of the malts used. To the different proportions, the age of the selected starting whiskies is also important. The master blender works from the beginning with the certainty that thirty, in individual cases up to fifty or more whiskies harmonize well with each other. What is particularly relevant is how the malts and the grains ultimately come together to form a single unit.
How they come together is handled differently here and there. It is comparatively more expensive if the malts and the grains are first blended separately and then continue to mature in large wooden barrels for several months. Only then are they reduced to the normal strength of 40 percent or 43 percent with water and bottled. Then you can buy the blended whiskey.
The legislator also has a say: It clearly stipulates that when stating an age, the youngest whisky contained in each case is decisive.
Before buying blended whisky in the blended whisky store, so also in the delicando blended whisky store, the information is quite helpful that blended whiskies to buy blended whisky are basically divided into the segments Standard, Premium and De Luxe. The respective price depends on the age and malt content.
In the Scottish homeland, whisky is mostly drunk neat. Accordingly, it is said that the Scot loves two things naked - one of which is whisky. Americans, too, prefer to take their whisky neat and at most "on the rocks," that is, with a few pieces of ice. Here and there, they also top it up with a little soda.
In a cocktail or in other mixed drinks, the different whiskies also find different uses: While Scotch actually precludes mixing because of its distinct smoky flavor, the products from the U.S. form the basis for a number of excellent mixed drinks. However, because they usually harmonize poorly with liqueurs, they are found almost exclusively in the more tart before-dinner cocktails or in long drinks.