Whisky blends keep up our spir­its

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - CHEERS! - BERNARD GUTMAN

DO YOU like sur­prises? I’m sure you en­joy the good ones, such as a tax re­fund or an all-clear from the den­tist. The prob­lem is the nasty sur­prise, such as an ex­pen­sivesound­ing noise from your car en­gine or a psy­chotic stalker on Face­book. What has this got to do with whisky? Ev­ery­thing, be­cause when we drink our reg­u­lar whisky, we don’t want sur­prises. We want con­sis­tency.

Our daily dram should be an un­sur­pris­ing source of com­fort. Blended whisky makes up more than 90% of all the whisky drunk in the world. The re­main­ing 10% com­prises sin­gle malts, whisky from malted bar­ley, pro­duced in one dis­tillery (ex­am­ple: Glen­fid­dich); sin­gle grain, the same as sin­gle malt, ex­cept it’s made with grain, (ex­am­ple:

Bain’s Cape Moun­tain Whisky); blended malt, two or more sin­gle malts bot­tled to­gether, (ex­am­ple: Mon­key Shoul­der); and blended grain, two or more grain whiskies bot­tled to­gether, (ex­am­ple: Com­pass Box He­do­nism).

Blended whisky is rel­a­tively new in whisky terms and started in the 1830s when Ae­neas Cof­fey in­vented the patent still, also called the Cof­fey still. This al­lowed for con­tin­u­ous dis­till­ing, as op­posed to a pot still, which pro­duces spir­its batch by batch. Most de­cent blended whiskies con­sist of 75% grain whisky and 25% malt whisky, so the large vol­ume of spirit pro­duced by the Cof­fey still are vi­tal for the whisky mar­ket.

Around 1860, An­rew Usher, the fa­ther of mod­ern whisky, be­gan blend­ing dif­fer­ent whiskies. At more or less the same time, young John Walker did the same in his green­gro­cer store. Scot­land ex­ported the blended whiskies to Eng­land, Amer­ica and then the rest of the world.

The Cof­fey still pro­duces spir­its much faster and at a lower cost than malt whisky made in a pot still. At first, pro­duc­ers used grain whisky to re­duce the cost of the whiskies they sold. The added ben­e­fit was that grain whisky is much lighter and sweeter than malt whisky.

Con­sumers in Scot­land be­gan en­joy­ing blended whiskies as they were more palat­able than malts, and the flavours were more con­sis­tent. As the pop­u­lar­ity of blended whisky rose, more and more dis­til­leries sold their stock of sin­gle malts to whisky com­pa­nies who bot­tled the spir­its un­der their own la­bel.

Fa­mous blended whiskies in­clude John­nie Walker Black, Bal­lan­tine’s and Bell’s. While those whiskies have tasted al­most the same for decades, the recipes have changed. For ex­am­ple, there are about 32 dif­fer­ent whiskies that make up John­nie Walker Black. Each of those whiskies, (about five grains and 27 sin­gle malts) has spent at least 12 years ma­tur­ing in an oak bar­rel.

While Cardhu and Caol Ila sin­gle malts will al­ways fea­ture in JWB, there will be sin­gle malts from many other dis­til­leries in Scot­land.

We mere mor­tals will never know ex­actly which sin­gle malts and what pro­por­tions make up a blend.

Those se­crets are known only to the mas­ter blender and one or two of his trusted as­sis­tant noses. They have to sam­ple whiskies from about 100 bar­rels ev­ery day. No, they don’t drink them, they smell them. The blend may fea­ture 1 000 bot­tles of Talisker in one year, and 100 the next, with more La­gavulin mak­ing up the smoky com­po­nent.

Af­ter the whiskies are taken out of their bar­rels, they are then “mar­ried” for a few months in other bar­rels, be­fore be­ing bot­tled.

It takes about 20 years of train­ing to be­come an ex­pert nose and many mod­ern noses have a back­ground in chem­istry. They spend their days in mat­u­ra­tion ware­houses and lab­o­ra­to­ries, en­sur­ing that the taste and aroma of the whiskies re­main the same, year af­ter year.

Next time you have a blended whisky, raise your glass and toast the mas­ter blenders. Maybe one day we’ll join them on a walk round the ware­house, sam­pling from 100 casks.

Baf­fled by booze? Get an­swers by email­ing bernard@drinks­mag. co.za or tweet @bernardg­whisky

Blended whisky makes up more than 90% of all the whisky drunk in the world.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.