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THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
So, can blends be as good, or better, than single malts?
Woolley: One isn't better than the other. They’re both
different whiskies. It’s like comparing a shiraz-cabernet
sauvignon blend to a pinot noir and asking which one is the
better wine. They are both wines, but completely different.
MacDonald: Absolutely. A lot of the most expensive whiskies
available are blends. Some are sold for over $200,000 a
bottle, and include some of the rarest and most precious
whiskies that exist. Many luxury blends come from a long
history of master blenders whose skills are incredibly
valuable and handed down through generations to maintain
the integrity of some of the most famous brands.
Hanzlicek: Definitely. While blended whiskies have different
characteristics to a single malt, at the end of the day the
blended whisky is still created using high quality single
malts. It is up to the skills of the master blenders creating
these whiskies and many of these guys are truly masters.
They have amazingly sharp palates and olfactory sense
and many devote their lives to crafting these balanced and
Colin Scott, Chivas Regal master blender
SELLING THE STORY
According to Woolley, the story behind the rise of blended
whisky is a fantastic one that can be easily used across the
bar when chatting to customers about their whisky options.
“It’s complete with Whisky Lords, the failure of wine crops
throughout Europe – due to a little bug – which led to the
decline of brandy, and the ever-evolving art of the blend, a
truly incredible skill in itself,” he says.
MacDonald believes that most consumers are unaware that
a single person can be in charge, and as such recommends
opening that discussion with interested punters.
“People find it astonishing that one master blender can be
the guardian of the whole brand and be working with so many
different whiskies to create the same result batch after batch,
year after year,” she says.
Hanzlicek concurs that the skill of the blenders is always a
great tale, adding that product knowledge is an indispensable
part of assisting your customers.
“I think it’s all in the education of the different types of
whiskies that you have available in your bar,” he says.
“Knowing the flavour profile, finish, mouthfeel and palate
weight of the whiskies on the back bar will put you in a good
place to recommend alternative blended whiskies to those
guests ordering specific single malts.”
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Blended Whisky: A mixture of two or more whiskies,
from different distilleries, that are bottled and sold as one
whisky. Usually contains a mix of barrel-aged malt and
Single Malt: Not the product of a single batch or barrel of
whisky, though this is a common misconception. Single malts
are in fact a blend of whiskies from a single distillery.
Single Barrel: The product of a single barrel of whisky,
unmixed with whisky from other sources, making
it a completely unique product. More common in
She also notes that price snobber y is misguided as, by its very nature,
grain whisky is cheaper to produce in larger quantities, meaning that
price tag alone cannot denote quality.
“In some countries, like Australia, where standard blends were
more prevalent, the image of blends was as a cheaper – and rougher
alter native to malts,” she says. “After all, single malts were double or
triple the price, and then some, so it was a fair assumption to make.
However, these young, grain-heavy whiskies were nothing like some
of the well-aged and beautifully crafted luxury blends on the market
which play in a different ball game.”
Thankfully, there is a growing level of education in Australia,
especially in the consumer sphere.
“I think the understanding has evolved since I started bartending
10 years ago,” says Hanzlicek. “Consumers used to be all about single
malts with high age statements, but I have certainly noticed that many
consumers are really starting to appreciate non-age statement and
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
The skill of the master blender and his team is integral to maintaining
the quality and consistency of each and every bottle.
“Master blenders will have lear ned their craft over years and years,
developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of the intricate flavours and
characters that Scotch can have,” says MacDonald. “It is an extremely
skilled and complex job.”
She gives the example of Colin Scott.The Chivas Regal master
blender can “nose” up to 2000 whiskies in any one week to make sure
ever y drop is of the cor rect quality – of that 2000, only around four will
actually be tasted.
“The nose is the secret weapon of the blending team,” she says.
“Hundreds more flavours can be picked up on the nose compared with
Hanzlicek relates that the master blenders for Suntory devote their
lives to their craft, sometimes in an extreme manner.
“The team of master blenders at Suntory try to preserve the integrity
of their palate by avoiding spicy foods, not smoking, and not drinking
heavily, even though they are evaluating around 200 cask strength
whiskies in any one day,” he says. n
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