I’m a bit obsessed with blended malts at the moment. (Not to be confused with blended whisky...though I can see why you would be.)
My reasons for this are threefold. Firstly, by their very nature, you never know quite what you’re in for, the way you do (up to a point) with single malts from distilleries you’re familiar with. Which can result in some lovely surprises (and, naturally, a few nasty shocks).
Secondly, you can have a go yourself. Greg talked about infinity bottles a few weeks back, and it’s always fun to tinker around with combinations. After all, we may never have our own distillery (though apparently these days all you need is a kickstarter account) but there’s nothing stopping anyone from trying their hand at a spot of blending.
Thirdly, I came across some real gems last year, when making my way through sub-£50 pours. Bottles like The Feathery and McDonald’s Glencoe 8 year old really stood out, alongside usual suspects from Compass Box, Wemyss and Laing(s). Naturally enough I wanted to try a few more.
You don’t tend to trip over too many reviews of blended malts online though, which may well be a result of the unglamorous ‘blended’ at the start of their name. So for my own edification, and your consideration, I arbitrarily picked four blended malts from Drinks By The Dram’s selection, each of which costs comfortably under £50 in full bottle form.
Highland Blended Malt. Duthies. (WM Cadenhead) – Light-medium intensity on nose. Notes primarily lifted and youthful. Malty. Some citrus – lemon and grapefruit. Perhaps a light touch of honeydew melon. The faintest, teensiest wisp of smoke suggests itself right in the background. Clean, fresh and springtime-y. (Totally a word.) Not especially deep or complex.
The citrus and maltiness continue onto the palate. Still very fresh and lively. Very barley led – lots of sweet grassy/straw elements. If there has been any peat we’re talking the most minor of traces. Light prickle of alcohol. Not especially challenging, but pleasant stuff. Roughly £34. 46% ABV
Highland Journey Blended Malt – Apparently a blend of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, but the sherry character takes a while to express itself. Slightly more baritone than the Duthies Highland, but there’s an estery, spirit note that distracts slightly, and reminds almost of young grain. Again rather malty. Fruit arrives in stewed apples and pears; less tangy than the Duthies.
Palate an absolute carbon copy of nose. Medium weight. That slight hint of an immature off-note remains, and really takes focus away from the more pleasant elements. Sherry casks perhaps a little more assertive than on the nose. Not a bad whisky, but wouldn’t personally go for a bottle. At £42 a pretty optimistic price, too… 46.2% ABV
The Six Isles – Peat, of the light, sweet variety, straight away. Clean, gristy malt. Honey and green apples. God, this is lovely! Fresh lemon and sea air. Perhaps a touch of seaweed. Could nose this forever – wonderfully pure and expressive. Scottish springtime in a glass; no aggressive aspects whatsoever, and aromas are clearly defined and terrific.
Peat arrives first on the palate, but doesn’t linger too long before transforming into honey, white chocolate, blossom and heather. Silken mouthfeel; no harsh or immature side at all. Quite simply delightful; I want this for a Springtime picnic by the sea. Also a steal for the money at around £28. 43% ABV
Angels’ Nectar Rich Peat Edition – Peat isn’t necessarily any more intense than The Six Isles’, but it is deeper and earthier in style. More murky and with more iodine and medicine cupboard. Very nice; Autumn to Six Isles’ Spring.
Engine oil and farmyard character on the palate. Holds its strength well through an oily and unctuous texture. Certainly the fullest-bodied of the four. Peat remains earthy and gristy. Not much fruit; this is real savoury peat-and-barley fare. And that’s definitely ‘peat’ rather than ‘smoke’. A little vanilla and spice before a surprising dark chocolate finish. Nice, but at £42 a touch ambitious on cost. 46% ABV
All in all, a mixed bag. My favourite by far was Six Isles, which also happens to be the cheapest. Hooray! That doesn’t happen often. Given the slightly gimmicky concept, which should be self-explanatory from the name, I hadn’t expected too much – but it really delivered. Lovely balance. I’d definitely recommend a bottle, and will be buying a full-sized one myself.
Bottom of the pot for my money was Highland Journey. I was slightly surprised, as I’d heard good things. Possibly I just got a weaker batch, but I still think that the embarrassment of riches around the £40 mark would deter me from venturing further.
Duthies and Angels’ Nectar go in the ‘not sure’ pile. Whilst there wasn’t anything wrong with Duthies, there also wasn’t anything screaming ‘yes, you must have more of this.’ Perhaps just a little shy.
Angels’ Nectar feels about £8-£10 too pricey. The peat-focussed blended malt category is a very crowded market, and I’m not sure this quite reaches top of the pile. Would I have another glass? You bet. Would I recommend it at a bar? Certainly. By the bottle? Hmm. Think I’m a smidge too mean.
Still obsessed with blended malts though.