*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Alas, poor blended scotch! It’s still pretty much the reason the Scotch industry exists in the first place, being responsible for nearly 90% of all Scotch whisky sold, and despite this boom in brown spirits, it still doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves. There are of course many obvious examples of good blended Scotch out there, but many people still make very little distinction between crappy, bottom-shelf brands and the ones that are actually very good. In some people’s eyes it’s still seen as the dismissible, cheap, proletariat end of the Scotch whisky world. Believe it or not, there are still the occasional pompous clowns out there haughtily proclaiming, “I don’t drink blends.”
To be fair, there are a lot of cheap, crappy blends. I’m not sure there are more cheap, crappy Scotch blends than any other spirit type, but admittedly, cheap blended scotch tends to taste worse than cheap vodka, or even cheap bourbon and cheap gin. When it comes to awful, bottom shelf booze, cheap blended Scotch is right up there with cheap tequila and brandy. HOWEVER, one would do well to not judge an entire category on its weakest entries. One would do well to also not judge the category by its most ubiquitous bottles, though I don’t want to mention Messrs. Walker, Sark, J&B, and Chivas by name. There has been a bit of a revival lately in the Blended Scotch category, and interestingly enough its being led by independent bottlers and retailers as much as it is by the big companies’ brands. Compass Box is at the forefront of this movement, playing with the notion that lines of blends need be unchanging and un-adventurous by releasing variations of their King Street whisky, and producing special one-off expressions like the Delilah’s and the General. Likewise, UK retailers Master of Malt have released several interesting blends over the last few years. Ian Macleod’s and AD Rattray are two examples of independent bottlers that have quality entries in the category with the Isle of Skye range and Bank Note blend, respectively. And then, just for hell of it, we might as well mention the animal blends; William Grant & Son’s excellent Monkey Shoulder, and Pig’s Nose and Sheep Dip (ok, that one’s a vatted malt) from the somewhat unheard of Spencerfield Spirit Co. Quietly joining the movement is David Stirk’s Creative Whisky Co. with their excellent 21 Year Old Exclusive Blend. According to the literature, this expression is made up of 80% malt and 20% grain whiskies, all of it aged at least 21 years in refill sherry casks.
The Nose: Wow, a rich nose with plenty of backbone. Lots of caramel and dark honey, and lots of dark red fruit – cherry pie with a heavily sugared crust, and black currant jam. Just a touch of sherried rancio – nutty chocolate brownies – and weighty malt and grain notes play nicely with the sweeter elements while integrated wood and spice helps balance it all out. There are nice” old library” notes, polished oak and worn leather, along with deep cinnamon, bourbon vanilla bean, dried orange peel.
The Palate: Great lush mouthfeel, picks up where much of the nose left off. More dark, sugared fruit and warm caramel that nearly carries through the whole of the palate. Mid-palate notes of nutty toffee, bakers chocolate and more of that same weighty malt. A bit more dynamic towards the end, as a bright wave of spice rolls in; Vietnamese cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and quite a bit of complex oak.
The Finish: Wonderful length, a slowly diminishing swirl of dark fruit, burnt sugar, sweet malt, oak, and cinnamon.
Thoughts: A beautiful whisky. Bold, expressive, and well-integrated with a wonderful progression from start to finish. The sherry cask influence is strong but tempered by the mature grain notes, which are in turn enhanced by the sherried notes. The nose feels older with its caramel-y sweetness and old library notes, while the palate seems a little younger with its vibrant spice, but they both work very well together. This one is a delight, masterfully well-made and a lavish pleasure to have in the glass. Not necessarily cheap at around $100-$115, but with today’s prices in mind, actually not a bad value at all. Highly, highly recommended.
The Exclusive Malts’ The Exclusive Blend 1991 21 Years Old, Blended, IB +/-2012