Back in September, we began offering some pointers on blending your own whisky to help you get the most out of the marvellous Home Blending Kits we have bestowed upon the world (we’re good like that) as well as explaining a little about how whisky blending came about. Now, we left that post on a bit of a cliff-hanger I’m afraid but fear not! We didn’t forget about this, good heavens no! Time to re-cap/catch up on How To Blend Whisky Part I because herein lies... Part Deux!
We didn’t, forget about you.
I have been tasked with the duty of guiding you through the potentially murky waters of whisky blending, where we aim to create a spirit that is greater than the sum of its parts, one that speaks with one voice rather than being a ‘wabble of wowdy webels’. We must add ‘A’ and ‘B’ to create ‘C’ (or ‘X’ or ‘Z’ if we’re really lucky). Before we continue though I feel I should ensure we’ve taken Part I on board and that we’re not still going around mindlessly chanting an Orwellian mantra of “single malt good, blended whisky bad”. There’s absolutely no better way to do this than to paraphrase an excellent post from the chaps at Caskstrength.net last year. If suffering from said Orwellian-mantra-syndrome I would have to advise that you pull down hard on your shoulders until you hear the loud pop that will indicate your head is no longer installed in your posterior. Ahem. On with the blending...
Cutty Sark Master Blender Kirsteen Campbell
In Part I we also established some key points. Take heed!:
- Less is more – a few carefully selected whiskies will each be able to shine and contribute rather than simply chucking in everything within arm's reach, which will in all probability result in a misguided cacophony of a blend.
- Use peat in moderation – peated whiskies can easily overpower a blend (if it’s your intention to create a particularly peaty blend you still may need less than you think).
- Blends require time to marry – allow the whiskies to get to know each other beyond some initial small talk (probably about how two inches of snow can bring the country to a standstill) and you'll find that the blend develops favourably over the course of a week or two.
With these points fresh in the mind let’s crack open a Home Blending Kit and get started!
Let the games begin!
Inside you will discover:
- 2x 3cl Single Grain Base
- 2x 3cl Single Malt Base
- 3cl Speyside Single Malt (Sherry matured)
- 3cl Highland Single Malt
- 3cl Islay Single Malt
- 3cl Lowland Single Malt
- 3cl Old Highland Single Malt (Sherry finished)
- 3cl Old Speyside Single Malt
- 3cl Very, very old Grain whisky
- 3cl Very old Islay Single Malt
as well as the following fine tools and instruments:
- 3ml pipette
- 1ml pipette
- 10ml Measuring cylinder
- 25ml Measuring cylinder
- 100ml Conical Flask
- Crystal Tasting Glass
The temptation at this point is to dive straight in with the rabid enthusiasm of a small child on Christmas morning but you must keep this inner child in check, place them on the naughty step if you have to, because before you go to war you must know your enemy.
Crack open your enviable array of drams with no pre-conceptions, take your time to investigate them fully with your senses, what would each bring to your blend? Make notes, the more the better. Now, what sort of blend are you planning to make? Something fresh and light or something to sit by the fire with perhaps? Have a plan, but experiment too, just keep those all important key points in mind! If you do all this then the whiskies will no longer be your enemy but a heady array of weaponry at your command. A stupendous arsenal to create your own unique masterpieces. That's the idea anyway. Let's have a look at how I got on and maybe pick up a few more pointers along the way...
Action shot of me introducing some parallax error by reading measurements at an angle #poorchemistrytekkers
To build your blend it is advised that you start with the base (the Single Grain & Malt Bases), gradually build the mid-range (using the Speyside (Sherry matured), Highland, Islay & Lowland Single Malts), before finishing with smaller quantities of the top-dressers, which should be used as the ‘seasoning’ (the Old Highland (Sherry finished), Old Speyside and Very old Islay Single Malts as well as the Very, very old Grain whisky).
I decided to start with the grains however as I thought the Very, very old Grain would be lost as mere seasoning in comparison to the other more assertive top-dressers that should indeed, much like peat, be used sparingly. It is vital of course to record everything you are doing as you go along too otherwise you will not be able to recreate, improve upon or share your results or order case loads of the stuff if you stumble upon some extraordinary alchemy for that matter!
– "Voilà! We've finally cracked it my little Karl Pilkington look-a-like scribe!"
– “Hm? Sorry old chap I was miles away, was I supposed to be writing something down?”
My final blend contained 33% Single Grain Base and 23% Very, very old Grain giving me 56% grain in my blend, certainly some blends have considerably more than this and equally with such a fantastic choice of single malts you may wish to have a lot less but this was about the percentage I was looking for. Having such a high percentage of the old grain does however rather fly in the face of the fact that grain is used to lower the overall cost of the finished whisky!
This is not the only reason it is used though, grain whiskies temper the more boisterous malts, acting as the ‘marriage councillor’ in the blend as Dave Broom would say, but they are also delicious in their own right and often unfairly dismissed (read “single malt good, grain whisky bad” Orwellian-mantra-syndrome). I wanted the grain whiskies to meaningfully contribute to the final character of my blend.
To my grain whiskies I added:
- 15% Malt Base
- 7% Speyside (Sherry matured)
- 15% Lowland Single Malt
- 6% Old Highland Single Malt (Sherry finished)
The eagle-eyed numerical whizzes out there may have noticed that these only add up 99% but before I went any further I decided to take a bit of time to assess exactly what I had created so far.
Lab coat optional.
Nose: Oily, beeswax, vanilla. Farley's rusks. Buttery.
Palate: Crisp cereal, initially creamy before becoming peppery towards the end.
Finish: Fresh and relatively short.
Overall: This is surprisingly united, I am quite pleased with it actually!
It was at this point that ‘the mistake’ happened. In a moment of hubris I decided to do what I had secretly been itching to do all along and I reached for the Very old Islay Single Malt. Perhaps just a drop or two? What's the worst that could happen? As it happened I had actually picked up the normal ‘mid-range’ Islay Single Malt instead without noticing and so instead of imparting what I had hoped would be the mere suggestion of a wisp of beach bonfire and smoky bacon (insert joke about me being a vegetarian here), I actually added something a lot sweeter but the difference in the blend was profound.
Basically, the whole blend was now a write off! A honeyed note had emerged on the nose but nothing else worked any more. This is not to say that the Islay malts should not be used, only that I had totally underestimated the delicacy of the light blend I had lovingly built.
Unfortunately, whilst quite pleased with my blend, ‘the mistake’ has left me with nothing to leave to marry together. I do however have all the bits required to rebuild it like the million dollar man – I have the technology! In fact I can rebuild it better...
stronger... faster... and once I’m happy or indeed once you’re happy with your blend then guess what? That’s right! We’ll bottle it for you to your exact recipe and with your own personalised label! Simply visit our Blend Your Own Whisky page and enter your recipe, it’s even got those new-fangled sliders but instead of ending up with short-term high-interest debt you are presented with delicious whisky! We’ll even give you a nice discount if you buy a whole case!
Just Deux It
* There’s no way I wouldn’t have made that joke of course but it is also a nod to Jason B Standing & Billy Abbott’s Tiger Blood blend from back in 2011 and the very start of the Bloggers’ Blend project.