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Blended vs. Single Malt

10 Sep

So what if it is blended, the scotch whisky is STILL a bunch of single malts put together, right?

So what makes them different? What they put in them, that’s what. If you search around long enough, you could probably find some educated guesses or a few leaks from the blender as to what they include in their blends. If you read the Johnnie Walker Wiki, you will see that they use so many single-malts (30+???) in their blends, no individual label is going to jump out even to an avid drinker of single-malt scotch…
…and that’s the point. Back in the day, scotch distilleries were very unpredictable with their productions. This caused people like said Johnnie Walker to get what he could from wherever he could and blend the ones he could get his hands on in such a particular way to create more consistency from bottle to bottle. Otherwise, someone may wait ages and ages for that special single-malt bottle of Talisker from Skye.
So which do you choose–blends or single-malts–and/or why?
Let’s face it, there are some really good blends out there! One in particular caught my eye while I was in New York City a couple of weekends ago: Sheep Dip 1990. No, not this kind of sheep dipping:
Who wants a sniff?? Yuck.
But more like this tasty buddy:

Yummy AND smokey!

My friend and I were shopping at Astor Wine and Spirits (which I still highly suggest a quick run through if you are in the New York City area) and the sales person stocking the shelves went on and on about this special Sheep Dip blend of whisky.
Sheep Dip 1990 is a blend of Dalmore, Fettercairn, and Ardbeg. Yes. I said Ardbeg. My friend, Brian, was very generous enough to give me a few little tastes of his glass of this little booger while visiting the Brandy Library last month. I must say, VERY nice. The Dalmore gives it your Highland flavors of barley, light peat, maybe some dried fruit. The Ardbeg really kicks up the smoke levels to a fun level for a peat-head. And the Fettercairn… well… is the filler. I know very little about Fettercairn, but what I have found is that this whisky ranks fairly low on the Richter scale. I found one decent review for a 33 year in Jim Murray’s 2010 Whisky Bible.
So what do you choose? Blend or single-malt?
Since this is 21st century and technology is somewhat reliable, I tend to favor the single malts. Not so much that they are of a higher quality per se, but more for their differing flavors. Taste a Macallan (any year) and then immediately take a sip of Lagavulin (any year) and you will immediately know what I’m talking about. I do not have several blends around because they are so different, I have one or two (at most) around in my War Chest (see the War Chest article) for my casual dram when guests over and do not want to whip out a $200 bottle of something that I’m probably going to spill it all over myself anyway. My blends taste good but not too good. I would rather concentrate on a conversation with someone than using my brainpower to wrap my head around some complex set of flavor explosions coming out of my throat and making my eyes water…
How are you doing, Cindy? No, I’m not crying. This 120 proof dram is really shooting up my nose right now and it…blah blah blah Cindy thinks I’m an idiot. *EDITORS’ NOTE TO WIFE* Cindy is a fictional character made up for this example ONLY.

Michael Jackson said it best: single malts are arias and the blended malts are the symphony orchestra. You can have more than one orchestra play the same piece and have them sound reasonably close, but a soloist on the stage is more likely to sound original and like no-one else.
So which do you choose, why, and when?