Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blends or single malts?

Article #5

Blends or single malts?

There in a nutshell is the question. Do you drink a blend or are you a devotee of single malts? A short explanation for anyone who might not know the difference is in order.
Blends are just that, a blend of two or more scotch whiskies. Some have several different scotches with several different ages all blended under the expert guidance of a master blender. One might have some 4 year old this and some 6 year old that and a bit of 12 year old the other just for smoothness. Some have many different whiskies blended, so many in fact that I cannot imagine how one masters the art of that many blended into one.
Scotch is made from malted barley and that is why a scotch that is bottled just from one distillery all made from the same malting, the same age and kept in similar casks is called a single malt.
It is confusing to the non-scotch drinker. A friend of mine was flying first class one day and the British fellow setting next to him ordered a “malt” from the flight attendant. She started going on about what kinds of ice cream they had but was sorry they did not carry malted milk shakes and my friend came to the rescue explaining to her what the gentleman was really asking for was a single malt whisky. The British gentleman (who had been staring blankly at the lady) was quite grateful when his whisky arrived. Oh yes it can be confusing.
So which is it for you? I had never heard of single malt until the mid 1990’s. Until then I was drinking Ballantines which is a very good blended whisky or Chivas Regal or Dewar’s with an occasional bit of Black and White. Then someone somewhere said “single malt scotch” and I remember saying “what?” They quickly explained and said it was “better” than regular scotch. So I was then bound to try this “new” scotch. My first was Glenfiddich which means “Glen of the deer.” I was truly impressed and it did go down smooth. I wanted more and what else was out there that I had not yet discovered? It’s kind of like a kid who has never had candy and you give them their first Hershey bar, then you take them to a candy store full of goodies. Off to the liquor store I went and on the upper shelf were Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. Ok I thought, so there are at least two different ones…….(there are hundreds I was just learning). So I tried Glenlivet and loved it. At that particular moment in time most of the liquor stores where I live did not stock a lot of single malts and I believe Scotland’s distilleries were just finding out what a huge untapped market for the good stuff there was in the United States and many other countries as well. I was asking friends what they drank and trying to find out how many single malt’s existed. Were there 10 or 30 or just how many were there anyway? I started having better luck in bars than at liquor stores. At a now defunct seafood restaurant in Cape Canaveral I was introduced to Long Morn, Glen Keith, and Speyburn…. good grief how many of these were there? Angels were staring to sing and heavenly light shown across the bar as each and every new single malt crossed my lips my happiness grew and grew. I love scotch! I said out loud to no one at all.
At that point the blends were all but permanently put on the back burner as I made it my life’s work, hobby, and interest to seek out and find all the single malts that are in the world and try them out. I have found and tried many but there remains much work to do.
Yes I like single malts and yes I like blends. The latest blend I am drinking now is called Sheep Dip. It is named after an old custom in Scotland. That is, farmers made their own whisky (illegally of course) and kept it in barrels marked “sheep dip” which was the chemicals one would dip a sheep into to kill insects or fungus. This, so it is reported, was successful in keeping nosey government officials from finding and confiscating their home distilling efforts. I have a bottle of Pig Nose in the bar at home as a back up and it too is a blend. Another blend I like is Famous Grouse. The Famous Grouse is a blend containing whisky like Macallan and Highland Park; these are two of my favorites so the blend is one I really like. Some British spacecraft folks that worked with me on a launch where we were stuck in the blockhouse all night for several days informed me that The Famous Grouse is the scotch of choice for most British scotch drinkers as their regular-keep-on-hand-all-the-time-day-to-day scotch. Yes they all loved the high cost single malts but TFG is just more affordable and still tastes great. It now also comes in a single malt variety which of course is more expensive but pretty darn good.
Whether you prefer single malt or a blend or something else entirely, that is all well and good. As a person who knows what it is like to work all hard all day for $1.50 an hour when I was younger, I certainly understand buying what one can afford. In addition, as I have said before I am not a scotch snob and will drink whatever tastes good. Drink what you enjoy and enjoy what you drink! Please write and let us know what you do like and I will appreciate that a lot especially if you tell me you like something I have not tried. Of course that will mean I have to hit the liquor store at once to find it and try it.
The Whisky Warrior

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