Legally defined by Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 s.3(2) as “a blend of one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies with one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies”, blended scotch is the largest of the five categories of scotch whisky, representing a lion’s share of 90percent of all scotch bottled. Note the word used is “bottled”, not “produced”. Not all single malts produced are bottled as such – a large proportion is actually used to make blended scotch. Blended scotch is not just the workhorse, but lifeblood of the scotch whisky industry.
Blended scotch as we know it originated from the early Victorian era, or mid-19th century, owing to a basket of reasons. Back then, most single malts were too fiery to enjoy on their own, and most family-owned distilleries had neither bottling facilities nor marketing capabilities; whiskies were often sold by the cask to blenders and bottlers. Grocery stores and shopkeepers were particularly adept at blending; after all, they have been blending the likes of tea, coffee, tobacco and fragrances for centuries. The objective is essentially the same: the end product must be greater than the sum of all its parts.
Indeed, this is the common origin shared by numerous blended whiskies still in existence today, e.g. Ballantine’s (George Ballantine), Bell’s (Arthur Bell), Buchanan’s (James Buchanan), Dewar’s (John Dewar), Teacher’s (William Teacher) and Johnnie Walker (John Walker). The founders were often simultaneously shopkeepers, blenders and bottlers, all eager to put their surname on the label.
During the gilded age of single malt (1980s-present), blended whisky is sometimes looked down at as common, inexpensive quaffers for the uninitiated, and that a supposed lack of individuality remains its unatonable original sin. This would be an oversimplification, if not prejudice. First and foremost, most single malts, except perhaps the rare single casks, are subject to blending. To even out barrel variations, single malts from different barrels were blended before bottling. No less importantly, while it is true that blended scotch does not reflect the specific malting, distillation or maturation process of a distillery as can single malt, each and every blended scotch has its own, distinctive house style. That the style can be maintained year after year is not “the last refuge of the unimaginative” (Oscar Wilde on consistency).
The master blender needs to know hundreds if not thousands of batches of malt and grain whiskies, in order to forge them into a certain style. If the master distiller is a soloist highly specialised in one musical instrument, the master blender is more akin to the conductor, who needs to understand each and every section of the orchestra. How many and which single malts and grains? What kind of barrel maturation, and for how long? Above all, will the numerous components blend into a harmonious whole? This takes knowledge, skills, experience and judgement, as well as a certain fingerspitzengefühl.
Established in 1846, Dewar’s is the world’s most awarded blended scotch, which has over the years garnered more than 500 medals, along with a Royal Warrant granted by Victoria, and renewed by every monarch since. A pioneer of the “marriage in oak casks” method, whereby different whiskies are given extra time to amalgamate with one another in barrels after initial maturation and blending, Dewar’s house style can be described as rich and harmonious. Jacky I.F. Cheong
A blend of up to 40 single malt and grain whiskies. Bright golden with luminous copper reflex, the fragrant nose offers dried apricot, cardamom, roasted barley, crème bavaroise and heather. With a supple mouthfeel, the vigorous palate delivers cloudberry, aniseed, buttered toast, toffee and a whiff of bonfire smoke. Medium-full bodied at 40percent, the candid entry continues through a structured mid-palate, leading to a persistent finish. Easily one of the best 12yo blended whiskies on the market.
The composition of single malts is both classically gentlemanlike, with Highland (Aberfeldy, Macduff and Royal Brackla) and Speyside (Aultmore and Craigellachie) prominently featured, complemented by Lowland. Rich golden with saturated amber reflex, the scented nose reveals dried nectarine, star anise, maltose, marzipan and sandalwood. With a creamy mouthfeel, the sumptuous palate uncloaks physalis, nutmeg, gingerbread, fudge and a trail of wood smoke. Full-bodied at 40percent, the poised entry evolves into a melodious mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish. Unquestionably one of the best 18yo blended whiskies in the world.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France,
and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages