For the uninitiated, the difference between a single malt, a single grain, a blended malt, and a blended whisky can be somewhat confusing. A single malt whisky, and a single grain whisky, are often a blend of whiskies from different casks, albeit from the same distillery. A blended malt, sometimes called a vatted malt, is a blend of single malt whiskies from different distilleries. A blended whisky is a blend of grain whisky and malt whisky. How’s that for clarity?
There is a common misconception that a single malt is better than a blended malt or a blended whisky. Generally, it is true that blended whiskies are less expensive than single malts, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior, and there are many blended whiskies that put some single malts to shame. Quite often blended whiskies are produced to achieve a price point, but it can also be a technique to produce a spirit that is better than its constituent parts. That being said, all that really matters with any whisky is whether you enjoy drinking it.
No prizes for guessing our theme for May! Paul selected four blended whiskies and one ‘secret’ whisky.
Dewar’s 15 YO: 40% ABV, £42
Dewar’s was founded in 1846 as a wine and spirit merchant, receiving a royal warrant in 1898, which it continues to hold to this day. Dewar's pioneered the process of "marrying" the whisky in oak casks to allow the blend to age as one within the casks. After the blend is created, the whisky is returned to an oak cask and allowed to mature.
Nose: Very fresh, green apples, fino sherry sweetness
Taste: Vanilla ice cream, orange zest, white pepper
Finish: Initial sweetness then pepper. Slightly drying.
Monkey Shoulder Batch 27: 40% ABV, £22
Blended by William Grant & Sons using single malts from a number of undisclosed Speyside distilleries. William Grant owns three Speyside distilleries, Balvenie, Kininvie and Glenfiddich, so we can be sure that these provide a major part of the blend. Monkey Shoulder, by the way, is the name of a medical condition common amongst the distillery workers on the malt house floor.
Nose: Baked apple pie, vanilla, toffee, orange
Taste: Orange mixed with vanilla and wood spices
Finish: Ginger spice with a little sweetness
Compass Box Menagerie: 46% ABV, £90
Compass Box is a highly regarded blender, founded in 2000 and headquartered in London. They have gained a reputation for challenging the strict edicts of the SWA (Scottish Whisky Association) and their campaign for transparency in the whisky industry. Their Menagerie release is a blended malt with single malts coming from Mortlach, Deanston, Laphroaig, and Glen Elgin distilleries, together with some of their own Highland Blend.
Nose: Vanilla ice cream, honey, fino sherry
Taste: Very fruity, some peat and lemon drizzle cake
Finish: Again fruity, subtle peat and refreshing lemon sherbet
Timorous Beastie: 46.8% ABV, £32
A Highland blended malt from Douglas Laing & Co, made with whiskies from Dalmore, Glen Garioch, Glengoyne and others. Douglas Lang has been blending whisky since 1946. The name of this release is a homage to Robert Burn’s famous poem.
Nose: Oranges, green apples, cream
Taste: Sweet and fresh, wood spices, honey, some peat and minerality
Finish: Pepper, honeyed sweetness and just a little peat.
….and the secret dram was…
Lismore 21YO Legend: 43% ABV, £52
Lismore do not disclose where this single malt was distilled, but widely rumoured to be Glenfarclas. The Lismore range was introduced in the 1950’s by William Lundie & Co. In 2004 the brand was sold to J&G Grant who own Glenfarclas distillery which now blends and bottles the Lismore range.
Nose: Jam tarts, almond, vanilla, melon, sherry
Taste: Milk chocolate, figs, cherries, cinnamon spice
Finish: Short for a 21YO, initially spicy then plummy sweetness
…and our ratings were… Compass Box Menagerie in first place just shading it from Timorous Beastie, followed by Lismore 21YO, Dewars 15YO and Monkey Shoulder.
Interestingly, this puts two blended malts ahead of the single malt. This is an ‘honest’ result as none of us knew that there was a single malt in the tasting until it was revealed after the tastings were finished.
The club recently introduced another question after the tastings, which one would you buy? Even though a whisky might come first in the tasting, it can have a high price tag, so this gives us the opportunity to vote for the one we feel is best value for money. This month's winner was fairly easy to predict, it came second in the tasting and only costs £32 - Timorous Beastie walks away with the coveted title of our recommended whisky of the month.