The skill of Whisky blending
What is blending? What is its purpose?
A number of distilleries bottle and sell some of the whisky they distil for consumption as single or unblended whiskies. By far the greater part of their production, however, is used for the well-known blended Scotch Whiskies that are sold all over the world.
Blending whisky is a considerable art acquired only after years of experience.
A blend will consist of anything from 15 to 50 different single whiskies, combined in the proportions of a formula that is the secret of the blending company concerned.
Whiskies from different distilleries have a character of their own and, just as people of different temperaments are often incompatible, so some whiskies will not blend happily with certain others. The Malts and Grains in a blend must therefore, be chosen to complement and enhance their respective flavours. Blending is in no sense a dilution. The blender's task is to combine different single whiskies, to produce a blend which brings out the best qualities of each of its constituent parts.
The aim of the blender is first to produce a whisky of a definite and recognisable character.
It is of the greatest importance that his blend should never vary from this standard, which his customers all over the world will have come to expect. His second aim is, therefore, to achieve consistency.
The blender must also decide when the different single whiskies are ready to be used in his blend. They are brought from the warehouse where they have been maturing to the blending establishment, where they are mixed together in a blending vat. They are usually returned to cask and left to ‘marry’ for a period of months, before bottling. Some companies prefer to vat their Malts and Grains separately and only bring the two together before bottling.
The combining of Malt with Malt or Grain with Grain is known as vatting.
When was blending introduced?
Blending was pioneered by Andrew Usher in Edinburgh in the early 1860s. It was only after this practice became common that a taste for Scotch Whisky spread first to England and then throughout the world.
The reason for this was that Pot Still Malt Whisky was inclined to be too strongly flavoured for everyday drinking, especially by people in sedentary occupations and warm climates. By combining Malt Whisky with Grain Whisky, which has less pronounced characteristics, the demand for a whisky that is milder in flavour and more suited to the conditions of modern life can be met.
What is the percentage of Malt and Grain Whiskies in blended Scotch Whisky?
There is no fixed percentage and the proportion differs from one blender to another. No brand owner is willing to reveal the proportions of the different whiskies used, but the blender determines the proportion according to the character he is seeking for his blend. This character is determined not only by the proportions of Malt and Grain Whisky which it contains, but also by factors such as the ages of the individual whiskies and the manner in which they combine to bring out the finest qualities in each other.
What is a de luxe blended Scotch Whisky?
It is a blend which contains a higher proportion of carefully selected older and, therefore, more expensive whiskies.
When there is an age label on a bottle of blended whisky, does it refer to the average age of the whiskies in that blend?
No. The law requires that when the age is declared on a label, it must refer to the youngest whisky in the blend.
For example, if a blend is described as an eight year old, the youngest whisky in that blend must have been matured for at least eight years.
Is it legal to sell whisky which is less than three years old for consumption in this country?
No. Although the spirit is distilled under the strict conditions applied to the production of Scotch Whisky, it is not entitled to be described as Scotch Whisky until it has matured for three years. This does not apply to compounded spirits such as gin, vodka and liqueurs.