Whisky laws and regulations differ from country to country, but patterns and trends can be observed, e.g. barley and extended maturation are held in high regard in the Old World (Ireland and Scotland); corn and rye are mainstay in the New World, especially North America (Canada and US); whereas emerging powers such as India and Taiwan, owing to their subtropical climates, can be much less concerned about extended maturation.
Scotland being the hegemon in the whisky world, its laws and regulations are amongst the most complex. Enacted by the British Parliament in October 2009 and entered into force the following month, the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 (“SWR 2009”) governs the production, labelling, advertising and packaging of scotch. As far as whisky lovers are concerned, production and style are the most important elements.
Scotch is legally divided into five categories:
Single Malt: only water and malt allowed, produced at a single distillery – “single” refers to the distillery, not the types of grains – by batch distillation in pot stills.
Blended Malt: a blend of two or more single malts.
Single Grain: water, malted barley and other grains (whether malted or not) allowed, produced at a single distillery – again, “single” refers to the distillery, not the types of grains.
Blended Grain: a blend of two or more single grains; and
Blended Whisky: a blend of at least one single malt and at least one single grain.
Public perception often has it that single malt is the “grand cru” of scotch, whereas blended whisky is but ordinary fare. When scotch rose to prominence in the late 19th century – partly owing to the phylloxera plague that devastated both wine and brandy production – blended whisky was at the forefront. Back then, single malt was often considered too harsh on the palate, and too variable in quality and style. The 1980s were the Dark Ages for single malt scotch, with nearly 20 distilleries ceasing operation – roughly 100 remain today. Coinciding with the Big Bang of the financial markets in London in the late 1980s, the initial silver lining for single malt scotch turned into a global malt craze, still in rude health today.
For its sheer quantity and widespread visibility, blended whisky still holds its own in the age of single malt, but the likes of blended grain, single grain and blended malt are increasingly overlooked. A rare breed, blended malt is uniquely interesting in that the taste profile is unmistakably of the malt type, and yet the style is eclectic, never as single-mindedly vociferous as single malt. If single malt is autocracy, blended malt would be oligarchy.
Bright golden with shimmering jonquil reflex, the sophisticated nose presents almond, nutmeg, breakfast cereal, hay bale and white smoke. With a silky mouthfeel, the chiselled palate supplies walnut, maltose, pepper, oat bran and light peat. Medium-full bodied at a candid 43%, the poised entry persists through a structured mid-palate, leading to a harmonious finish. A blended malt with Talisker (Island), Caol Ila (Islay), Cragganmore and Linkwood (both Speyside) on centrestage, supported by Dalwhinnie (Highland) and Glen Elgin (Speyside). A highly rated blended malt with perhaps the best value proposition in the JW stable, a regular at many a connoisseur’s drinks cabinet. 0.7l, 0.75l and 1l bottlings are available in some local supermarkets at less than $500 per litre – well worth the outlay. Great to enjoy outdoor, at autumn barbecues or in winter hiking.
The Chivas Regal series (12-, 18- and 25-year-old blended scotch) are the flagship products of Chivas Bros, which also produce the premium Royal Salute series (21-, 38- and 50- year-old blended scotch) and the sui generis The Century of Malts. As its name suggests, this blended malt contains precisely 100 malts from all corners of Scotland, including no fewer than 17 distilleries which have been mothballed, closed, demolished or destroyed, e.g. Convalmore, Dallas Dhu, Glen Mhor, Glenury Royal, Kinclaith and Ladyburn. Saturated golden with bright amber reflex, the opulent nose offers fruitcake, marzipan, baking spice, oat biscuit and wood smoke. With a buttery mouthfeel, the lavish palate delivers nougat, salted chocolate, allspice, toasted barley and pipe tobacco. Full-bodied at 40%, the compelling entry evolves into a dessert-like mid-palate, leading to a moreish finish. A delectable after-dinner treat, a testimony to Scotland’s unassailable position in the whisky world. Priced on a par with Johnnie Walker Blue Label, indeed both are NAS (No Age Statement) bottlings.
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