"Are blends making a comeback?" was the question somebody asked me relatively recently at an event. The only answer I could give was no. Simply because for something to make a comeback, at some point it has to have gone away. And with somewhere in the region of 88% of all Scotch whisky being bottled as blends, they are obviously still very much ever-present.
Perhaps the question we should be asking is whether blended whisky is experiencing a resurgence amongst those stalwart single malt drinkers; individuals who have traditionally viewed single malts as the pinnacle of Scotch whisky and dismissed all other categories?
For many years now, blends have always been considered the poor cousins of single malts. This wasn't, in fact, always the case. As mentioned before in previous blog posts (on White Heather and Back To The Future), prior to the 1980s, the single malt market was tiny in comparison and inevitably, if you drank Scotch whisky, you would have been drinking a blend.
For most whisky drinking folk, blends formed their introductory path; they opened the door to a whole new world of aroma and taste. For others, those flavours are reminiscent of nothing more than adolescent overindulgence. Recollections of a visit to Hull in the 90s, where the place to be - Spiders - sold whisky and a mixer for a mere 25 pence, affords me an insight into why, when asking if someone would like a dram, the answer would oftentimes be a resolute 'no'; explaining that they "can't touch the stuff ever since that one time etc etc".
It's perhaps safe to say that the quality of those cheaper blends of the 80s and 90s left a lot to be desired. But then, I guess, they had to. In order to grow the single malt market, drinkers of blended whisky needed a reason to switch to single malts. And Scotch whisky marketing teams offered them the best reason possible: "single malts are superior". In order to have a superior product, there has to be an inferior one. And so, quicker than you can say Leicester City, blended whisky was moved into the relegation zone.
With the likes of the aforementioned White Heather and the recently released Maclean's Nose, the perception of blended whisky amongst single malt enthusiasts looks to be changing. Given the elevated prices of many new releases of late, the affordability of blended whisky not only makes it attractive to those looking for an entry point without necessarily breaking the bank; it extends its reach to a wider audience including those who might traditionally have dismissed blends in favour of single malts.
If you add into the mix (or maybe that should be blend?) a relatively complex flavour profile, created by an innovative team with an excellent reputation and following, those staunch single malt-ists may just start to crack.
So, an affordable Scotch whisky, from a respected producer, with a focus on quality? Bottled at 46%, non-chill filtered and naturally coloured? Hailing from the Ardnamurchan Distillery / Adelphi stable, Maclean's Nose ticks all of those boxes.
The blend itself contains a much higher than average malt content (of 70%) with a fair amount of that component matured in sherry casks. As with all Ardnamurchan releases, the wee QR code on the back provides additional details as to the make up of the blend:
40 ex bourbon ASBs of malt whisky distilled in the West Highlands in 2018
5 ex bourbon ASBs of malt whisky distilled in Campbeltown in 2016
16 ex sherry hogsheads of malt whisky distilled in the West Highlands in 2018
21 ex bourbon hogsheads of grain whisky distilled in the Lowlands in 2017
Now, it's probably not too difficult to work out which West Highland distillery we're talking about here. And as for the one in Campbeltown? Well, my guess is, given the current state of play, if you have five casks of 7 year old Springbank, it probably wouldn't make too much financial sense to use them as components in a blend. So, let's just assume we have a fair whack of tasty Glen Scotia here. And the Lowland grain? Well, if you want to know for sure, I might just let that slip at the next tasting when I'll be pitching Maclean's Nose against five blended malts. And why would I want to do that? Well, for shits and giggles really.
In the meantime, though, here are my thoughts on this latest release:
Maclean's Nose - NAS - 46%
Nose: "Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement's" - citrus fruit aromas abound; a hint of pencil sharpenings; unripe peaches; a slight damp, foosty note in the background; charcoal notes appear after a while.
Palate: creme anglaise; burnt sugar; salted popcorn; Peach Rings sweeties; tinned clementines with Carnation; a slight hint of Nutella throughout.
Overall: Easy drinking for sure but there are extra layers of complexity here that you wouldn't find in an average blend. And retailing at around 30 quid, picking up a bottle really is a no brainer.
If you fancy joining us for the next tasting, to find out more about Maclean's Nose and see how it fares against the other whiskies, you can find all the details here: PICK THE NOSE
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