A dif­fer­ent sort of blend

Look out, sin­gle malt. Blended malt could be the next big thing in Scotch.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TASTE -

IF you love Scotch whisky, then you should know the dif­fer­ence be­tween a sin­gle malt ( a whisky that con­sists of malt whisky from just one dis­tillery) and a blended Scotch ( a blend of malt and grain whisky). But th­ese are not the only cat­e­gories in Scotch whisky.

There are three oth­ers – sin­gle grain ( grain whisky from one sin­gle grain dis­tillery), blended grain ( a blended whisky that con­sists only of grain whiskies), and the sub­ject of to­day’s col­umn, blended malt whisky.

Of­ten con­fused with blended Scotch, blended malt is a whisky that is a blend of just malt whiskies from two or more dis­til­leries, with no grain whiskies added in ( un­like blended Scotch).

While it may not be as com­mon as blended Scotch and sin­gle malt, it is a cat­e­gory that has been in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar of late, thanks in part to two high- pro­file brands – Di­a­geo’s John­nie Walker Green La­bel, and Wil­liam Grant And Sons’ Mon­key Shoul­der.

First in­tro­duced in 2005, The Green La­bel is the only blended malt in John­nie Walker’s range of coloured “La­bels” ( the rest are all blended scotch), and was only re­in­stated back into the core range re­cently af­ter be­ing dis­con­tin­ued in all mar­kets ex­cept Tai­wan since 2012. It is a blend of malts from Di­a­geo’s malt dis­til­leries, in­clud­ing Talisker, Linkwood, Crag­gan­more and Caol Ila.

Mon­key Shoul­der, on the other hand, is a blend of malts from just three dis­til­leries – Glen­fid­dich, Bal­ve­nie and Kin­in­vie.

Now that you know the dif­fer­ence be­tween blended malt and the other cat­e­gories, the big ques­tion is: why should you choose a blended malt over a sin­gle malt or blended scotch?

“It re­ally comes back down to the three dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sion of flavour,” said Jeremy Lee, brand am­bas­sador of John­nie Walker in Malaysia.

“A sin­gle malt tends to have just one par­tic­u­lar taste pro­file, whereas a blended malt gives me the malti­ness and char­ac­ter­is­tics of a malt whisky, but with dif­fer­ent taste profiles.

“On the other hand, a blended Scotch for me is more about the com­plex­ity you get when you mix malt and grain whisky to­gether, which re­ally cre­ates a dif­fer­ent ecosys­tem within the whisky.”

The blended malt cat­e­gory used to be called vat­ted malt, or pure malt, in the past.

Then around 2003, malt dis­tillery Cardhu ( owned by Di­a­geo) was sell­ing so much sin­gle malt in Spain that they could not keep up with de­mand, so they de­cided to com­bine their sin­gle malt with malts from other dis­til­leries and re­lease it un­der the name “Cardhu Pure Malt”.

That, of course, caused a lot of dis­sent amongst the other in­dus­try play­ers, and in 2009, a Scot­tish law was passed re­nam­ing all “vat­ted malt” and “pure malt” to “blended malt” and thus mak­ing it il­le­gal for Scotch pro­duc­ers to la­bel it oth­er­wise.

The fact that “blended malt” sounds so close to “blended whisky” is an un­for­tu­nate re­sult of that law, and Lee reck­ons it does con­fuse peo­ple, to a cer­tain ex­tent.

“Most peo­ple here still don’t even know the dif­fer­ence be­tween a sin­gle malt and a blended Scotch, let alone a blended malt,” Lee said.

Ac­cord­ing to Mon­key Shoul­der re­gional brand am­bas­sador Jay Gray, it’s still hard to ex­plain a blended malt to peo­ple.

“I just ex­plain to them what malt whisky and grain whisky are first. Then from there, once they have the idea in their heads, it’s eas­ier to tell them that Mon­key Shoul­der has three malt whiskies in it and no grain, whereas a blended Scotch has both malt and grain whiskies,” he said.

Mon­key Shoul­der was cre­ated to steer con­sumers away from the tra­di­tional style of drink­ing whisky, Gray ex­plained.

“Be­cause we’re try­ing to do that, we tend not to talk about what’s in­side it, but I CAN tell you that it has malt from three of our dis­til­leries – Glen­fid­dich, Bal­ve­nie and Kin­in­vie,” he said, adding that the orig­i­nal idea be­hind Mon­key Shoul­der was to cre­ate a blended malt that was its brand in its own right. “We wanted Mon­key Shoul­der to be very mix­able in cock­tails, and also be able to stand well on its own. “For bar­tenders, when you want to in­tro­duce a cus­tomer to some­thing, it is a lot eas­ier to do with some­thing like Mon­key Shoul­der, where you don’t have to bend over too much to give them what they want. “It’s an easy, ac­ces­si­ble whisky that has its own char­ac­ter as well.”

Does a blended malt make for a bet­ter in­tro­duc­tion to malt whisky than a sin­gle malt though?

“I do think it’s a good in­tro­duc­tion to malt whisky, yes. It’s mel­low, easy, and won’t scare peo­ple away!” Gray said with a laugh.

“An­other thing is, some­thing like Mon­key Shoul­der helps take away the stigma of age state­ments, and al­lows peo­ple to try the cat­e­gory of malt whisky with­out any pre­con­cep­tions about its value or taste.”

Lee con­curred, and pre­dicted that blended malts could be­come big in the fu­ture.

With de­mand for sin­gle malt world­wide grow­ing faster than the dis­til­leries can sup­ply it, the cur­rent trend for many dis­tillers is to do away with the age state­ments ( which denotes the youngest whisky in the blend) that have been a main­stay on Scotch bot­tle la­bels for so long. This will al­low them to put younger whiskies into their bot­tles.

“Yes, Di­a­geo has so many sin­gle malts and still has the largest in­ven­tory of whiskies on stock, but if we keep push­ing only age- state­ment sin­gle malts, we might run out of stocks even­tu­ally!” Lee said, con­clud­ing that be­sides non- age state­ment ex­pres­sions, com­ing up with blended malts could be an­other way for dis­til­leries to stay in the game.

“Just tak­ing away the age state­ment might give con­sumers a neg­a­tive im­pres­sion. But if they came up with some­thing like a blended malt, they could have a chance of cre­at­ing some­thing new that could at­tract the con­sumers in­stead,” he said.

“That’s why I think blended malt will be big in the fu­ture, and more com­pa­nies could go into it.”

Michael Cheang once tried cre­at­ing his own blended malt by pour­ing a few sin­gle malts into a glass. How did it taste? Let's just say he should stick to the day job. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Face­book page (www.face­book.com/mytip­sy­turvy) or fol­low him on In­sta­gram (@mytip­sy­turvy).

Gray says that mon­key Shoul­der is meant to be very mix­able in cock­tails. — Wil­liam Grant & Sons

mon­key Shoul­der has malt whiskies from Glen­fid­dich, Bal­ve­nie and Kin­in­vie. — Wil­liam Grant & Sons

John­nie Walker Green La­bel is a blended malt with five dif­fer­ent malt whiskies in it. — Di­a­geo malaysia

Lee pre­dicts that blended malt could be­come big in the fu­ture. — Di­a­geo malaysia

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