Woeful is the path of the poor Scotch whisky blend! Blends get all the sales…but single malts get all the attention. Blends account for 90% of total whisky production…but single malts get all the attention. Blends are labored over for hours, days, weeks even, with whisky experts combining upwards of 40 different malts to achieve a singular flavor profile…but single malts still get all the attention. Such is the lonely road that blends are doomed to trudge down. Well…ok, that may be pitching it a bit strong, but in the US at least, blends are kind of at odds with the current marketing trend for Scotch; they’re generally milder and made to appeal to a wider audience whereas the rockstar single malts of the day rely on being as unique and exclusive as possible. It doesn’t help matters that the lower shelves of stores are crowded with barely drinkable concoctions like Old Smuggler, Cluny, and Clan MacGregor…they give blends a bad name and the truly laudable ones out there rarely get their due. There are great blended whiskies, though, and while perhaps none are as peaty, pungent, sherried or strong as the favorite single malts of the day, there are many worth trying.
Ian Macleod’s Isle of Skye brand is certainly one of the worthy ones. Available in this 8 year old, a 12 year old, a 21 year old and believe it or not, a 50 year old, the Isle of Skye line marries fiery island malts with softer Speyside ones to create blends of a fairly unique quality.
The Nose: A rather soft, calm, delightful nose where I was expecting a little more island thunder…but on the other hand, it’s a richer nose than you have with most blends. Lots of nice round grain, bittersweet chocolate and roasted nuts tempered with some citrus fruit, maybe a bit of raisin and stewed fruit as well. There’s also a nice honeyed floral quality that’s most likely the Speyside talking but it’s very well-integrated. The maritime character comes across as subtle peat reek, not much smoke at all, more vegetal, earthy and damp.
The Palate: Rich mouth feel with sweet, balanced grain to start. A faint honey-roasted nuttiness leads on as the Skye flavors kick the Speysides to the curb. There’s a great touch of that sharp, scorched-earth Talisker quality and a little more smoke here than the nose, but that’s not saying much, this is not a big, smoky whisky. A little more nice, earthy, green peat, some drying oak and coastal brine lead to…
The Finish: Peppery, peaty and a little ashy and salty with nice length.
Thoughts: To be honest, it took me a while to warm up to the Isle of Skye 8yo. It’s very well-integrated, rich, and different among blends for its flavors, but it took me a while to reconcile the softer, Speyside-influenced nose with the sharper Island finish. After a few drams though,(not all at once, c’mon, you know me) I started to see the light with this one. It’s a unique, really well executed blend, in a way, closer to a single malt in its profile. Bold on its own, it would be very smooth over ice and because of the Talisker fiery-ness, I could also see this being able to carry a cocktail well. Around these parts, Isle of Skye is selling for $27-$30 for 750ml, which to my mind is a great value.