A certain style of blended whisky

Love bourbon but still enjoy an occasional foreign whisky pour as well? Discuss some of your favorites here.

Moderators: Brewer, brendaj

A certain style of blended whisky

Unread postby gillmang » Mon Aug 07, 2006 9:50 pm

I do not drink expensive blended whisky too often, saving my dollars for single malts.

However I've had the chance over the years to taste some luxury blends. One is Johnnie Walker Gold Label, another (just twice or so) the JW Blue, once the 25 year old Cutty Sark. I noticed a trademark taste in all these. They had what I call the "old books" taste. This is a flavour or smell of old paper and leather, sometimes mixed with flowers. "Old roses" is another term used in whisky terminology. This was married invariably to a smoky (peaty) background with a marine saline edge.

This must be an old style of blended whisky and as I say a few brands still offer that taste.

Recently a friend brought over a circa 1970 bottle of Grand Macnish that had long been in the family bar. The label was partly worn off. The name Macnish was still clearly legible and the words 70 proof (i.e., 80 proof in American terms, this was bought evidently in duty free and still bore the now defunct Sykes designation of ABV). I could not tell however what the age expression was.

We opened it and the taste was rich, malty (almost sweet), smoky and redolent of old books and old flowers. It was quite similar to the current Johnnie Walker Gold Label. It evidently had old whiskies in it, probably some 15-20 year old whiskies and possibly some that were yet older, thus going back probably to 1950 distillations or earlier. A rich dram of whisky, complex and satisfying. Few drams offer that palate today. It can only come from a certain style of blending and the use of some old malts which offer that specific palate. My guess is some were Islays aged by the seaside or Campbeltown whiskies from distilleries no longer in operation. (Campbeltown offered a zingy saline character - Springbank's whiskies still do although in a subtle way).

Some old rye whiskeys also get to that old roses/old books palate (e.g., some ORVW 13 year old rye does, also BMH 18 year old rye, and others). I mean, straight rye and malt whisky will always be different but I note a certain connection in some samples of the aged articles of both. Whereas bourbon, good as it can be at older ages, doesn't attain in my experience this dimension of flavour. Probably it did in the past.

Gary
User avatar
gillmang
Vatman
 
Posts: 2138
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:44 pm

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Aug 08, 2006 9:37 am

Gary,
Does it really suprise you that the quality of the blends has slipped over the last 30 years? Think about it - All of those nice single malt whiskies that were available for blending are now being sold as products in their own markets. This is bound to change the flavor of the less expensive blends as the really good single malts are sold on their own merits or saved for the expensive blends.

Another thing about blends is the fact that they are not straight whisky meaning they can add all kinds of flavoring agents to the whisky. If the quality of the flavoring agents has changed, that could change the overall flavor.

Mike Veach
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
User avatar
bourbonv
Registered User
 
Posts: 4070
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 7:17 pm
Location: Louisville, Ky.

Unread postby gillmang » Tue Aug 08, 2006 3:38 pm

Thanks, Mike, I agree substantially with you.

I don't think any flavouring is added to blended scotch though. Caramel is added to some whiskies to adjust colour. It can (I believe) affect, or "dull" (as Jim Murray notes) flavour, despite what producers suggest to the contrary.

But to my knowledge no sugars or other flavourings are added to scotch whisky (other than through sherry cask finishing and sherry cask aging from outset from some malt whiskies).

I think the Macnish used some notably old whiskies whereas today as you said these tend to be sold into the market (or more of them than used to be the case).

You can taste the grain whiskies in the MacNish but it is not obtrusive and I think there is a role for a lightening, "displaying", element such as grain whiskey.

Anyway anyone who wants to see this palate in action might pick up some Johnnie Walker Gold Label. It is worth the price and a taste of history.

Gary
User avatar
gillmang
Vatman
 
Posts: 2138
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:44 pm

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Aug 08, 2006 4:07 pm

Gary,
On the lower end, Mass marketed blended scotch whiskies, I would not rule out other flavoring agents. These would include sugars, fruit juices and artificial flavors such as imitation vanilla. There would be no rule to prevent them from being added as long as they did not excede a certain percentage of the product.

Mike Veach
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
User avatar
bourbonv
Registered User
 
Posts: 4070
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 7:17 pm
Location: Louisville, Ky.

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Aug 09, 2006 2:43 am

This is possible, Mike, but I have never heard of it being done (apart from caramel, e.g., I have never heard of vanillin being added in extract form or through wooden chips).

In Canada, additions such as you mentioned can occur for Canadian whisky.

There is a Scotch Whisky Act in the U.K. which contains some rules on product make-up (e.g. it specifies that wooden casks must be used for maturation of at least three years). I believe (from general knowledge) that any established practice in the industry is permitted if not against that Act. So if the practices you mentioned were or are prevalent, that would be okay even if the law did not expressly prohibit them. Does Jim Murray refer to such additions in the 2006 pocket guide? I must pick that up.

I will check too Michael Jackson's Whisky from last year to see if it sheds any light.

One thing of interest I found in searching the web (unfortunately I did not keep the reference) was a statement that the 3 years' aging requirement for scotch whisky derived from a temperance concern in WW I. The idea was to make liquor less available, so its aging was required to keep more of it out of the hands of war workers and others. I can't substantiate this from a separate source but it may well be true.

Gary
User avatar
gillmang
Vatman
 
Posts: 2138
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:44 pm

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Aug 09, 2006 9:39 am

Gary,
That is an interesting story, but I suspect it is not true. I think the age requirement and other standards were all part of the 1909 decision that defined "what is whisky" in Great Britain. This same decision had a huge impact on the Taft Decision in December of 1909.

Mike Veach
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
User avatar
bourbonv
Registered User
 
Posts: 4070
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 7:17 pm
Location: Louisville, Ky.

Re: A certain style of blended whisky

Unread postby Mike » Wed Aug 09, 2006 3:23 pm

gillmang wrote:I do not drink expensive blended whisky too often, saving my dollars for single malts.

However I've had the chance over the years to taste some luxury blends. One is Johnnie Walker Gold Label, another (just twice or so) the JW Blue Gary


I had completely forgotten that I had some of the Gold and some of the Blue in 200 ml bottles. Gary, your post reminded me, so I pulled them out. I lack your taste memories or palate sophistication so I had to have a sip of a single malt (Balvenie 12 YO Doublewood) alongside the Blue and Gold for context.

The Blue is one of the very smoothest whiskies I recall ever drinking. It reminds me of fine cognac is its delicacy. Its nose has leather, honey, heather, mild peat and smoke, with a bit of iodine. The taste is sweet and viscous with very mild spice and citrus overtones, and a bit of leather, even in the taste. There is the obligatory smoke, peat, and seaweed taste in a weak form. Blue's finish is moderately long with the honey sweet viscous flavors and mild spice going last. No alcohol is permitted to intrude............the taste is smooooth all the way. A very sophisticated alcoholic beverage. While I picked up on the leather, I did not get any of your old paper or books.

The Gold is a different, but with many of the same qualities. I get a bit of wood here, with light fruit aromas along with the peat, smoke, seaweed and leather, yes definitely more leather. I do get some of your dusty old paper and book aromas here (your words are very suggestive to me). I also get a bit of a nutty aroma and the alcohol presence is stronger. The nose of the Gold is not as delicate as the Blue in my judgement and is a bit more complex. The taste is likewise not as delicate with more of the traditional Scotch flavors. The Gold seems a bit drier and does have an 'old book' hint in it (I love books and the texture, smell, and sheer longevity of old books gives them a rank and status, irrespective of their contents, that commands respect).

I did not expect to say this, but today the Blue and the Gold are superior to the Balvenie 12 YO Doublewood, a single malt I consider among the best buys in Scotch Whisky (spoken by one whose knowledge of Scotch is way limited).

Will I choose a favorite 'twixt the Blue or Gold for today...........why should I? Was it a good tasting day? You betcha!!
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
Mike
Registered User
 
Posts: 2106
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 5:36 pm
Location: Conyers, GA

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Aug 10, 2006 11:55 am

Excellent notes Mike, many thanks. Balvenie is very good but good blending can trump most malts unless they acquire equal complexity (which they can in some cases partly too through a kind of vatting since few malts are "single barrel").

Gary
User avatar
gillmang
Vatman
 
Posts: 2138
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:44 pm

Unread postby Brewer » Thu Aug 10, 2006 4:02 pm

I gotta tell ya guys, I'm not one to get to excited about any of the Scotch blends. I prefer the pure unadulterated flavor of Islay's influences. Give me the peat, the seaweed, iodine, salt, and I'm a happy camper. After trying Single Malts from the variety of regions of Scotland, Islay's got my favorite distilleries. Of course, Springbank is another favorite (I've got a 5 year old cask waiting there to reach the ripe old age of at least 10) and Talisker is another favorite.
Bob
User avatar
Brewer
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 1481
Joined: Sun Oct 10, 2004 11:44 am
Location: LI, NY

Unread postby Mike » Thu Aug 10, 2006 4:46 pm

Brewer wrote: Give me the peat, the seaweed, iodine, salt, and I'm a happy camper. After trying Single Malts from the variety of regions of Scotland, Islay's got my favorite distilleries.



I enjoy the Islay Scotch's too. I like Lagavulin but haven't been happy with the cost for some time. Have you tried Ardbeg Uigeadail? I like it a lot and it is reasonable.

It has seaside aromas and smokey taste in abundance and is sold at what they call 'Traditional Strength', which is 108.4 proof. That extra proof gives it a bit more zip!

It has a nice complex of flavors and reminds me of smoked salmon.......which I love. My wife and I had a very memorable meal of Scottish salmon in a small village on the Firth of Forth, just north of Edinburgh. We were situated between the Firth of Forth Railway Bridge (an 8000 ft plus cantilever bridge built over 100 years ago.....still working and beautiful to behold) and the Forth Road bridge.........a suspension bridge for automobile traffic that is about 3100 ft long.

What a fantastic setting for some native wild salmon.......and scotch whiskey (I don't remember what whiskey I had).

Ardbeg brings those memories back to life! (Maybe I had Ardbeg?)
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
Mike
Registered User
 
Posts: 2106
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 5:36 pm
Location: Conyers, GA


Return to Scotch Whisky

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest