PDA

View Full Version : Giving short shrift to blenders...



mrviognier
06-14-2011, 19:35
Why is it that some Bourbon enthusiasts look down their noses at folks who blend and/or bottle whiskey that they've purchased from distilleries? There seems to be a consensus of 'if you didn't distill it, you're not legit', or that bottling something you didn't make is somehow less of an accomplishment, qualitatively speaking. Take, for example, the polarizing reaction to David Perkins of High West getting the “Innovator of the Year” award from Malt Advocate. Many purists derided Dave’s award by saying, ‘He didn’t make the spirit, he just blended it’.


To my point of view both distillers and blenders practice very important crafts. And, in my experience, it takes a whole lot more talent to take a multitude of barrels - some of varying mashbills, ages and characteristics- and make a compelling, layered, nuanced bottle of whiskey. Don't get me wrong...I'm not saying that there's no art to distillation. There certainly is; however, if forced to come down on which of the two is more important, I'll choose the blender.



In the wine industry there is a whole category of producers known as negociants. They neither grow the grapes nor process them into wine. They purchased finished wines from wineries, and (most often) blend them with wines purchased from other producers to craft a finished product. And some of those products are damn good. The general consensus in the wine trade is that negociants aren’t as ‘good’ as a winemaker…and I’d agree with that sentiment on the whole. I’m not taking away anything from their talent to blend a complex wine, it’s just that – when it comes to wine – the grower and winemaker are every bit as important in the finished product.



With selling whiskey you do need to have a good distillate base…but the maturation and blending of the product is really where the rubber meets the road. You can make the finest white dog in the world, but it pales in comparison to a well-crafted Bourbon. If you don’t know how to blend – what to add, what not, and in what proportions – then you’re toast.



I make this observation not to piss any of you off, it’s really to get some honest feedback as to why some here think that folks who purchase barrels from distilleries and then bottle under their own label are not (or somehow less than) ‘real’. I’d welcome your input…thanks!

callmeox
06-14-2011, 19:59
To me it is like the difference between a singer/songwriter and an "artist" who takes the finished musical product of another and remixes it and calls it their own.

Weird Al Yankovic has made a career of taking popular songs, penning brilliant parodies and selling boatloads of albums. Nobody that I know looks at him as a serious musician.

Successful rectifiers are the Al Yankovic's of the spirits world. At least with Al, we know 100% of the time where he sourced his blending stock.

BFerguson
06-14-2011, 20:04
Single barrel, Small batch, multi-thousand gallon batch blending to achieve the "company profile"..........as long as what is coming out of the bottle into my glass is fine tasting to my taste, I'm happy.

No doubt, it takes real skill and dedication to master the craft of distillation, but equal skill is needed to take multiple taste profiles, noses, barrels, years, etc..... .and combine them into something greeter than the sum of their parts.

Not that I drink much of the other stuff that comes in from across the pond, but the scotch industry has some very talented folks in the blending business, The guy from Compass Box, whose name escapes me at the moment, comes to mind.

Not to mention our own members who have come up with some great "blending" recipes of their own.

B

mrviognier
06-14-2011, 20:08
Knowing where the base distillate was sourced from is a completely different issue (and, for the record, I'm all for transparency).

And while I'm not a fan of Weird Al, it does take a serious musician to do what he did/does. If you follow that line, you'd have to say that Itzak Perlman isn't a serious musician...after all, he didn't write that Tchaikovsky piece.

MarkEdwards
06-14-2011, 20:31
To me it is like the difference between a singer/songwriter and an "artist" who takes the finished musical product of another and remixes it and calls it their own.

Weird Al Yankovic has made a career of taking popular songs, penning brilliant parodies and selling boatloads of albums. Nobody that I know looks at him as a serious musician.

Successful rectifiers are the Al Yankovic's of the spirits world. At least with Al, we know 100% of the time where he sourced his blending stock.

Okay, now, wait a cotton-pickin' minute.

Weird Al and his band have got boatloads of musical talent just on the basis of the sheer range of music they are able to play, imitate and parody. Not to mention the amount of non-parodied, original music he releases on each album.

Not only is Weird Al, and each member of his band, a serious musician, but they are all damn fine musicians. :smiley_acbt:

MarkEdwards
06-14-2011, 20:33
Not only is Weird Al, and each member of his band, a serious musician, but they are all damn fine musicians. :smiley_acbt:

Also, where else can you find the Rolling Stones done polka style?

callmeox
06-14-2011, 20:40
Knowing where the base distillate was sourced from is a completely different issue (and, for the record, I'm all for transparency).

And while I'm not a fan of Weird Al, it does take a serious musician to do what he did/does. If you follow that line, you'd have to say that Itzak Perlman isn't a serious musician...after all, he didn't write that Tchaikovsky piece.

I think that Weird Al would be very happy to be compared to Itzhak Perlman, but strawmen aside...

When has Itzhak Perlman recorded a Tchaikovsky piece and sold it without crediting the composer? Typically, the composer gets top billing with classical artists.

It's not the perfect analogy, but I remain unswayed. Those who take the finished product of others and modify it to sell as their own creation are many levels below craftsmen who create from end to end.

(all of this is IMO of course)

Now, when does this guy come out?

:deadhorse:

mrviognier
06-14-2011, 20:46
But - like callmeox - you're missing the point. I'm not talking about those who have issues who rectify and are reluctant to discuss where the product was distilled...or, worse, those who make up some cock-n-bull story about the origins of the whiskey. And, yes, those that can do BOTH are truly talented.

I'm wondering why folks feel that those who blend and don't distill lack real talent.

mrviognier
06-14-2011, 20:47
Also, where else can you find the Rolling Stones done polka style?

Hmmm. Brave Combo comes to mind. :grin:

Josh
06-14-2011, 20:49
This topic has been discussed ad nauseum, my nauseum anyway. But here I go again...

Speaking for myself, and I am unanimous in this, I have no problem with those who mix and marry stuff they bought elsewhere. I took issue with Perkins being called a pioneer b/c I don't think what he does is pioneering, not b/c I think there's no skill involved. Yes, that's a double negative.

What annoys me is when a company claims or implies (either on the bottle or elsewhere) that they distilled a whiskey when they didn't. This includes putting the name "Distillers" or "Distillery" in the company name when no distilling is going on. Or implying that the product was made somewhere it wasn't.

callmeox
06-14-2011, 20:58
Also, where else can you find the Rolling Stones done polka style?

I think this is a supply/demand question, no?

:grin:

White Dog
06-14-2011, 21:42
For me, it's all in the honesty in labeling and presentation. As soon as I smell bullshit, it bugs me.

I've yet to see a secondary bottler be as honest and transparent as a Duncan Taylor or Gordon MacPhail. Both of those negociants are fine by me.

With Templeton you have outright lies. And while I don't have as much of an issue with Perkins, and indeed I enjoy much of his stuff, why not state where those distillates came from on the back label? He's stated it on this site, so why not on the label as any honest Scotch bottler would do?

You always here the claim, "If I told you, I would lose the contract." Really?!? I would think that LDI and HH have other things to worry about.

mosugoji64
06-14-2011, 22:04
This topic has been discussed ad nauseum, my nauseum anyway. But here I go again...

Speaking for myself, and I am unanimous in this, I have no problem with those who mix and marry stuff they bought elsewhere. I took issue with Perkins being called a pioneer b/c I don't think what he does is pioneering, not b/c I think there's no skill involved. Yes, that's a double negative.

What annoys me is when a company claims or implies (either on the bottle or elsewhere) that they distilled a whiskey when they didn't. This includes putting the name "Distillers" or "Distillery" in the company name when no distilling is going on. Or implying that the product was made somewhere it wasn't.

Good points, Josh, and I totally agree. A case in point is the W.H. Harrison bottlings. I have no problem with the company buying some product to come up with their own unique blend and selling it. But when they start implying or stating that they distilled the juice, they're going too far.
I like knowing where the whiskey comes from just from a geekiness point of view. If the company doesn't want to tell me, fine, but don't imply that it comes from somewhere it doesn't.
And back to the original point - I think blenders are definitely artists. As anyone who has tried a single-barrel version of any whiskey can attest, the consistency achieved by the master distillers/blenders in any product line is quite an achievement and the work of someone who knows what they're doing.

MarkEdwards
06-15-2011, 04:41
What annoys me is when a company claims or implies (either on the bottle or elsewhere) that they distilled a whiskey when they didn't. This includes putting the name "Distillers" or "Distillery" in the company name when no distilling is going on. Or implying that the product was made somewhere it wasn't.

This pretty much falls under the heading of outright lying as a marketing ploy. Personally, whenever I catch a company outright lying to me, I try to never do business with them again.

DeanSheen
06-15-2011, 08:44
As anyone who has tried a single-barrel version of any whiskey can attest, the consistency achieved by the master distillers/blenders in any product line is quite an achievement

I do love me some single barrel blends! Yum!

sailor22
06-15-2011, 09:19
I'm also surprised blenders don't get more credit.

As an example, HH has bourbon aging at a number of different locations and for different amounts of time consequently coming out of the barrel with different taste characteristics. They "blend" those flavors to get the profiles that match the label the juice is going to. The fact that they get a reasonably standardized product is quite an accomplishment. It's the blender that makes it happen. When they release an annual like Parkers Heritage it represents a different blend than anything previously sold and so far at least it has been excellent. Likewise a blending success but on a different scale. Granted they are using their own juice but the case could be made that not being able to include profiles from other houses and aging campuses only limits the possible recipes and consequently the product. That's where an independent may well have an advantage.


This pretty much falls under the heading of outright lying as a marketing ploy. Personally, whenever I catch a company outright lying to me, I try to never do business with them again.

On a recent tour of HH I noted that their movie states that Parker Beam personally tastes every barrel before it is used for one of their products to insure its quality. They went on to state and underline that they only use one (1) mash bill and the same yeast that they have been using forever...... and yet the latest PH10yr is a wheater. Clearly a couple of whoppers. I suppose all HH products are off limits then.

mosugoji64
06-15-2011, 09:30
I do love me some single barrel blends! Yum!

:lol: :slappin: :lol: :slappin:
Hey, it was late when I wrote that :grin: Anyway, if you sample the single-barrel version of any bourbon vs. the standard version, you'll see that there's usually a huge difference. The fact that the distillers can blend the varied flavors of those single barrels and come up with consistent flavor profiles for their product lines is amazing and a testament to their talents.

AaronWF
06-15-2011, 10:19
I love High West's products, they're simply delicious. I think that the lying companies can have a tendency to give a bad rep to all bottlers who don't make their own product simply because many many people get their information from headlines rather than more revealing, nuanced conversations.

It doesn't take any glory away from a bottler/blender to hold a soil-to-bottle producer of a great product in higher esteem (not that there are many if any whiskey makers who grow their own grain). There's a romance involved in the alchemy of turning grains into spirit that is more emphasized when the person who sells you the bottle is the same person who grew the grain, ground it, distilled it, set it in a barrel and pulled it out when it was ready. Producers who get closer to that order of things get closer to the romance.

Again, I don't think it takes anything away from a brilliant blender to say this.

craigthom
06-17-2011, 19:30
But - like callmeox - you're missing the point. I'm not talking about those who have issues who rectify and are reluctant to discuss where the product was distilled...or, worse, those who make up some cock-n-bull story about the origins of the whiskey. And, yes, those that can do BOTH are truly talented.

I'm wondering why folks feel that those who blend and don't distill lack real talent.

I think you are missing the point, or at least setting up a straw man to fight. Where, specifically, are the complaints that you are talking about? What I've seen are complaints about companies that claim to be distillers but aren't, and then the complaints are about the companies, not the whiskey itself.

Show me where people dismiss Pappy Van Winkle or Whistlepig or Angel's Envy because the producers don't distill them.

Josh
06-18-2011, 16:15
On a recent tour of HH I noted that their movie states that Parker Beam personally tastes every barrel before it is used for one of their products to insure its quality. They went on to state and underline that they only use one (1) mash bill and the same yeast that they have been using forever...... and yet the latest PH10yr is a wheater. Clearly a couple of whoppers. I suppose all HH products are off limits then.

There's a difference between lying and just being wrong. I suspect the latter was the case.

birdman1099
06-18-2011, 16:48
There's a difference between lying and just being wrong. I suspect the latter was the case.

You believe Heaven Hill does not know that they have more than 1 mashbill??? and that they really do think that Parker tastes every single barrel????:skep:

kickert
06-18-2011, 20:42
Speaking for myself, and I am unanimous in this, I have no problem with those who mix and marry stuff they bought elsewhere. I took issue with Perkins being called a pioneer b/c I don't think what he does is pioneering, not b/c I think there's no skill involved. Yes, that's a double negative.


Yup... that is where I fall. Every major distillery produces AND blends. Now I love a good bourbon no matter who makes it or who blends it. I have no animosity for blenders. My beef came when a blender-only was called an innovator. Love the product... it takes talent... but people have been doing it for years.

Josh
06-19-2011, 10:50
You believe Heaven Hill does not know that they have more than 1 mashbill??? and that they really do think that Parker tastes every single barrel????:skep:

I believe that the people giving the tour don't know that or misunderstand what they are told to say.

For example, I was at Grand Traverse Distillery yesterday and got a tour from the new guy. He knew the ins and outs of how they make their vodka, but he was completely confused about their whiskey program. He seemed to think that straight whiskey was different than bourbon and all other sorts of crazy stuff. The last tour we had was from one of the owners of the place. He was able to answer all the questions clearly and had a good handle on everything. The young guy had probably been told all the right information, he just got it all mixed up in his head. He wasn't lying, he was obviously just confused.

cowdery
06-19-2011, 11:46
I think there are several factors at work here.

(1) Historically in the United States, 'blended whiskey' is closely associated with rectified or compound whiskey. A century ago there was a war between distillers and dealers, and the distillers won. Winners write the history, so folks steeped in the American whiskey tradition tend to regard American blends as crap and worse. Yes, this is 'old news' but it explains the attitudes of many in the industry.

(2) There is no such stigma attached to blended scotch and 90% of the scotch sold worldwide is blended. Because blended scotch is such a big business, the traffic in bulk whiskey, including prestigious single malts, is enormous, making independent bottling a significant, respectable and mainstream business. Nothing like that marketplace condition exists in the U.S., so blenders are more of a sideshow.

(3) Most American blends are, in fact, crap or worse. I'm not talking about the drop-in-the-bucket coming from small boutique producers. I'm talking about the bottom shelf, plastic bottle handles of whiskey-flavored vodka bought by people who will drown it in soft drinks before they drown themselves with cheap alcohol.

(4) Most of the boutique producers have engaged in some level of deception, not a good way to gain respect for what is, in the U.S., a new and unfamiliar way to 'make' whiskey.

(5) Most people don't understand the 'blending' that goes on in the production of American straight whiskey and even talking about it risks sowing more confusion instead of clarity. For example, High West's Rendezvous Rye could have been called a straight rye, avoiding the blending issue altogether, had the source ryes not been made in two different states.

Blending is a great solution for micro-distillers wrestling with 'the whiskey problem,' as I wrote about here (http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2011/06/great-lakes-tries-new-approach-to.html).

People who would like to see blenders get a better deal need to remember that 'respectable' blending is new and unfamiliar in the U.S. It's very much a work in progress, a moving target. Everybody should keep an open mind.

birdman1099
06-19-2011, 13:00
I believe that the people giving the tour don't know that or misunderstand what they are told to say.

For example, I was at Grand Traverse Distillery yesterday and got a tour from the new guy. He knew the ins and outs of how they make their vodka, but he was completely confused about their whiskey program. He seemed to think that straight whiskey was different than bourbon and all other sorts of crazy stuff. The last tour we had was from one of the owners of the place. He was able to answer all the questions clearly and had a good handle on everything. The young guy had probably been told all the right information, he just got it all mixed up in his head. He wasn't lying, he was obviously just confused.


No, the tour guide did not day that... the Movie in the visitors center says that.... I believe someone in the know had a hand in approving the movie....

cigarnv
06-19-2011, 14:10
No, the tour guide did not day that... the Movie in the visitors center says that.... I believe someone in the know had a hand in approving the movie....

I saw that movie Scott!!

At the end of the day all that matters is if you like the product. Few buyers really care about the nuances of advertising or even bother to read the labels.... forget the words and focus on what is in the glass....that is where the real truth is found.....

cowdery
06-19-2011, 15:13
I saw that movie Scott!!

At the end of the day all that matters is if you like the product. Few buyers really care about the nuances of advertising or even bother to read the labels.... forget the words and focus on what is in the glass....that is where the real truth is found.....

Would you eat meat that's not USDA inspected? Would you buy drugs that are not FDA approved? Would you buy electric appliances that are not UL certified? Would you have your teeth drilled by an unlicensed dentist? I know there is a libertarian principle that would answer all of those questions "yes," except perhaps UL because it is voluntary and not governmental, but that's what you're proposing.

cigarnv
06-19-2011, 16:05
Would you eat meat that's not USDA inspected? Would you buy drugs that are not FDA approved? Would you buy electric appliances that are not UL certified? Would you have your teeth drilled by an unlicensed dentist? I know there is a libertarian principle that would answer all of those questions "yes," except perhaps UL because it is voluntary and not governmental, but that's what you're proposing.

Just a bit different context here don't ya think Chuck... don't think the issue is inspection, certification or licensing.... you know better....:)

Josh
06-20-2011, 08:02
If the movie before the tour said something incorrect, then it should be corrected whether it was an intentional mislead or lack of oversight. I hope you all brought that to the attention of your tour guide or the folks at the BHC.

cowdery
06-20-2011, 13:47
Just a bit different context here don't ya think Chuck... don't think the issue is inspection, certification or licensing.... you know better....:)

A difference in degree, perhaps, but not in kind. Rules are there to protect the consumer. Do you really want to consume something made by someone who has trouble following a few simple rules? I don't.

cigarnv
06-20-2011, 14:13
A difference in degree, perhaps, but not in kind. Rules are there to protect the consumer. Do you really want to consume something made by someone who has trouble following a few simple rules? I don't.

Chuck, I have to admit you have lost me here... but then again I am not the brightest guy around. I though we were talking about blending whiskey... not drugs, toasters, root canals, etc.

What rules are the blenders not following that would endanger us, the end consumers of blended spirits? Possibly I am missing something here Chuck but if the companies who blend whiskey were producing harmful products I would be concerned.... but I have no knowledge they are. Do you?

You seem to be suggesting the blenders of whiskey are breaking rules and putting consumers of their products at risk. This seems to be a bit far fetched?? Which whiskey sellers are putting us in danger??

tmckenzie
06-20-2011, 18:18
Yup... that is where I fall. Every major distillery produces AND blends. Now I love a good bourbon no matter who makes it or who blends it. I have no animosity for blenders. My beef came when a blender-only was called an innovator. Love the product... it takes talent... but people have been doing it for years.

Exactly what he said.

cowdery
06-21-2011, 08:32
Chuck, I have to admit you have lost me here... but then again I am not the brightest guy around. I though we were talking about blending whiskey... not drugs, toasters, root canals, etc.

What rules are the blenders not following that would endanger us, the end consumers of blended spirits? Possibly I am missing something here Chuck but if the companies who blend whiskey were producing harmful products I would be concerned.... but I have no knowledge they are. Do you?

You seem to be suggesting the blenders of whiskey are breaking rules and putting consumers of their products at risk. This seems to be a bit far fetched?? Which whiskey sellers are putting us in danger??

Let's go back to your original statement: "At the end of the day all that matters is if you like the product. Few buyers really care about the nuances of advertising or even bother to read the labels.... forget the words and focus on what is in the glass....that is where the real truth is found....."

Would that it were that simple. It's not. That's why there are rules and that's why the rules are good. In no way do the rules guarantee good whiskey, so in that sense you're right, but before something gets into my glass I want to know it is what it purports to be. And the history of this--why the rules were put in originally--was because people were selling harmful products.

cigarnv
06-21-2011, 09:16
Let's go back to your original statement: "At the end of the day all that matters is if you like the product. Few buyers really care about the nuances of advertising or even bother to read the labels.... forget the words and focus on what is in the glass....that is where the real truth is found....."

Would that it were that simple. It's not. That's why there are rules and that's why the rules are good. In no way do the rules guarantee good whiskey, so in that sense you're right, but before something gets into my glass I want to know it is what it purports to be. And the history of this--why the rules were put in originally--was because people were selling harmful products.

Ok Chuck... help me out here...for about the third time what are the rules that are being broken by the companies who are blending whiskey and the harm that is being done to those who consume those products? Simple question, how about a simple answer.....

AaronWF
06-21-2011, 10:32
Ok Chuck... help me out here...for about the third time what are the rules that are being broken by the companies who are blending whiskey and the harm that is being done to those who consume those products? Simple question, how about a simple answer.....

If I may, my sense is that Chuck is talking about the ability of the end consumer to track down the spots where individual ingredients included in his bottle of blended whiskey were made. I don't think he's saying that companies are necessarily breaking rules, but rather that there are no defined rules, and therefore companies are free to cook up any recipe, put it in a bottle and call it blended whiskey.

There are rules for what can be called 'straight bourbon whiskey,' 'straight rye whiskey,' etc., but when you can release a product that's 80% GNS and call it blended whiskey, the term whiskey loses some meaning.

So, not only does a company not have to disclose who made the whiskey in their blend, but there's no third party taking responsibility for ensuring that there are no additives, or that the ingredients are pure, or that the production was sound. Personally, I don't want to drink anything that may have been made with some unknown chemical that causes blindness; I don't care how good it tastes. That's the kind of extreme that only focusing on what's in the glass can conjure up.

cowdery
06-21-2011, 15:39
Ok Chuck... help me out here...for about the third time what are the rules that are being broken by the companies who are blending whiskey and the harm that is being done to those who consume those products? Simple question, how about a simple answer.....

Enough with the tough guy crap, already. What did you mean by your original statement? Weren't you saying the rules don't matter? That the drinker's experience is all that matters? I never said contemporary blenders are breaking rules or harming people, just that we have the rules, and shouldn't disdain the rules, for that reason. You're playing straw man games here and I don't really care how much you bold and underline.

cigarnv
06-21-2011, 16:38
Chuck, my original statement was-

“At the end of the day all that matters is if you like the product. Few buyers really care about the nuances of advertising or even bother to read the labels.... forget the words and focus on what is in the glass....that is where the real truth is found.....”

My statement suggests in no way that I would consume a harmful product… it clearly states I drink what I like. It says nothing of breaking rules… it says that I pay little heed to advertising claims or the marketing employed on labels. Clear and simple.

You decided to respond with-

“Would you eat meat that's not USDA inspected? Would you buy drugs that are not FDA approved? Would you buy electric appliances that are not UL certified? Would you have your teeth drilled by an unlicensed dentist? I know there is a libertarian principle that would answer all of those questions "yes," except perhaps UL because it is voluntary and not governmental, but that's what you're proposing.”

Clearly your suggestion was that the blenders are doing something outside of the established rules… why else would you choose to make the statement above? Your follow up was-

“A difference in degree, perhaps, but not in kind. Rules are there to protect the consumer. Do you really want to consume something made by someone who has trouble following a few simple rules? I don't.”

Again you suggest that the blenders are producing something that is harmful..something that I should think twice about consuming. Why would you make this statement?

Chuck, with all due respect you are playing games here. You know exactly what I meant with my original statement… why you even bothered to jump in and now are trying to back peddle on is beyond me.

cowdery
06-21-2011, 16:40
The bottom line for me is that you're trying to pick a fight and I'm not interested. I stand by my side of this dialogue.

cigarnv
06-21-2011, 16:51
Chuck, again with all due respect if anyone was attempting to create an issue it was you with your initial response to my post..that is clear. As for picking a fight I simply asked you to explain your position.... which I suspect is an explanation we will never receive

craigthom
06-21-2011, 16:53
Clearly your suggestion was that the blenders are doing something outside of the established rules… why else would you choose to make the statement above? Your follow up was-

Black text is hard for those of us using the default color scheme to read.

Chuck wrote nothing about what current blenders are doing.

You wrote that what's on the label isn't important. Chuck wrote that it is. That's it.

mrviognier
06-23-2011, 11:41
Ah...go away for a week and see what happens? Guess I'll stay in Paris and drink some Four Roses...:grin:

snowrs
06-23-2011, 21:14
I have been enjoying scotch as of late, and have come to appreciate what a really good blender can create. Compass Box is making sone truly deliciuos blends and I believe there is just as much talent in the blending as there is in the distilling, just in a different area.

jfw
06-23-2011, 22:29
I like to know as much as possible about what I am buying. I don't have a problem with people sourcing whiskey and doing something to it (i.e. Angel's Envy) or just reselling it. With AE, we know who sourced the whiskey and what they did with it afterwards. Sure, I'm curious about its exact history, but since it tastes great and I have confidence in who released it, I can get over it.

But, I don't write about whiskey and/or post public reviews for a living like Chuck, John H, etc. I can absolutely see why obfuscating the source and handling of the whiskey would drive them nuts when it seem so unecessary. I have the advantage of reading their information on the product and their tasting results before I make a decision on whether or not to buy it.

It's a lot like eating mystery meat out of an unlabeled can someone gives you and assures you it is good. It might taste good, but you still wonder who made it, how they made it, and where it came from :).

Joe

StraightNoChaser
06-23-2011, 22:37
I have been enjoying scotch as of late, and have come to appreciate what a really good blender can create. Compass Box is making sone truly deliciuos blends and I believe there is just as much talent in the blending as there is in the distilling, just in a different area.
I really enjoyed the Spice Tree.

On another note, their ambassador Robin Robinson was extremely rude to a crowd of us at a tasting of CB whiskies :skep:

smokinjoe
06-23-2011, 22:52
I have been enjoying scotch as of late, and have come to appreciate what a really good blender can create. Compass Box is making sone truly deliciuos blends and I believe there is just as much talent in the blending as there is in the distilling, just in a different area.

Here's where I completely abandon this position. In my mind, just my mind, mind you...:D....I can't in any conceivable way possible, put "blenders" and distillers on the same level, talent-wise. No way. None. Zip.

BTW, it has been the quick comparison jump to Compass and scotch, that put a burr under my saddle during the whole "pioneering award" deal. But, that's for another thread....

TomH
06-24-2011, 00:13
I was kind of on the fence on this one until snowrs post about compass box kind of hit me right between the eyes (yes, I know several people have brought up CB, but for some reason - maybe the 4 pours of Ardbeg) it just kind of hit me tonight).

And hopefully not to put a burr in Joe's saddle (or get into the "pioneer" thing because that's a totally different issue), but I think I do come down on the side of the importance of blenders. I just realized that given the choice of a CB product vs a similarly priced Diageo product (where much of the CB whsky is sourced from), I would choose the Compass Box product.

This is not to take away from any master distiller, because much of their job is blending and they are indeed experts at it. Maintaining a brand profile from uniquely tasting single barrels definitely requires the blenders art. If they were not great blenders, how would they be regarded.

Tom

Gillman
06-24-2011, 05:32
It's also a fact that malt distillers change production techniques (e.g., malt types, equipment) over time; what they make may or may not be aged onsite (some "coastal" malt is tanked and trucked inland for aging far from the source); use different kinds of barrels for their minglings; and marry these varying productions from different years, to boot.

The Macallan 12 for example, in my opinion, is rather different than it was 20 years ago, lighter, not as rich and sweet, less sherried.

To know the source of something is a relative thing. Is it any different when we learned that some HH bourbon for a time was distilled at Beam? Even bourbon distilled and aged at one site changes profile quite frequently from one decade to the next.

I view the talents of distilling and blending as equal in complexity. We can add a third component to this, which is maturation. Distilling new make is one thing; aging it to a profile or variety of them is another; mingling, blending and vatting is the third. Each valid and with its own skill set.

Gary

sailor22
06-24-2011, 07:34
I view the talents of distilling and blending as equal in complexity. We can add a third component to this, which is maturation. Distilling new make is one thing; aging it to a profile or variety of them is another; mingling, blending and vatting is the third. Each valid and with its own skill set.

Very good point Gary. It brings us back to the first part of this thread. Clearly in most of todays marketing the aging and vatting get overlooked in favor of the distilling when they all have importance. I sense it is changing a bit among enthusiasts however.

sutton
06-24-2011, 11:51
Very good point Gary. It brings us back to the first part of this thread. Clearly in most of todays marketing the aging and vatting get overlooked in favor of the distilling when they all have importance. I sense it is changing a bit among enthusiasts however.

All good points - and I also believe it is a matter of perspective. In US winemaking, the winemaker (perhaps analogous to the distiller) is looked at more often as the "artist", whereas in Europe they are viewed as technicians, whose role is not to "screw up" what the winegrower/farmer worked all year to produce in the vineyard and with their specific terroir. The elevage (aging) of the wine in the cellar (warehouse) is also seen as a technical job where the ability to blend varietals to produce the profile in the final product (vatting/blending) as a much higher skill.

All are important variables in producing the final product - the question for any producer is how much of the process you wish to control directly or outsource to others. I don't think either model has a distinct advantage as long as whoever is doing each step are skilled in their craft and are following the specifications given by the producer.

As far as more accurate/more complete labeling, I'm in full agreement with others here - the only reason I can see that a blender/barrel selector might want to imply they have a distillery is that they believe in the mind of the consumer that somehow this implies higher quality in the mind of the consumer. Enthusiasts are always more educated that your average consumer - and I would think since many of these higher end products are targeted at least in part at these types of consumers, a producer would actually benefit from more complete disclosure.

For anyone who drinks wine, take a look at the back label of a bottle of Ridge Zinfandel and you'll see an example of disclosing of the process at its extreme - and I love to read it every vintage.

Gillman
06-24-2011, 13:59
I agree with Steve that things are changing in terms of the relative balance of the three factors, distilling, aging and mingling-vatting-blending. Part of this change is due to the influence of consumer writers (e.g. Chuck, John Hansell and his team, Paul Pacult) and of course boards like this one.

What strikes me is how the taste of some traditional bourbons - made (distilled) at one place for generations - isn't always superlative. Obviously the bourbon is produced to the legal standard, it (rarely) is bad. But fine-tuning the palate is something that seems a preoccupation more of recent years and not all distilleries share it. The distilleries which do respond by issuing better products, more special editions/limited/experimental releases, etc. This re-establishes the importance of those who taste and approve the final product for each brand, which in turn puts the focus on maturation, mingling and other elements which might have seemed lesser years ago. Not to forget other factors like single barrels, but this is part of the selection system which I'd put in the third category mentioned.

I must say I wish Beam would follow more in the trend. The small batch line has been around for a long time now. I don't find either much variation or real taste interest amongst it. There was the higher proof version of KC released recently, notable for its strength but not much else I'd say. The new (ri)1 was a step in the right direction, but not different enough from the other two ryes in the stable IMO. How about some really aged rye, something 10-15 years old?

I have to think with all the warehouses they use there must be some fantastic barrels out there. Special release 'em, show us your stuff. How about a 100 proof and/or single barrel Overholt 8 years old?

Gary

cowdery
06-24-2011, 21:05
Seagram's founder Sam Bronfman always said distilling is a science, blending is an art.

But I don't see the question of "who's more important" as really the question. 'Master Blender' has become a marketing position as much as 'Master Distiller' has, the point being that many people other than the 'master' have a hand in deciding what goes into the bottle. And, yes, even in straight bourbon, a lot happens to 'make' the product after the barrels have been dumped.

Sadly, the United States has a long tradition of the blender as flim flam man or snake oil salesman and while we can certainly get past that we can't pretend that history doesn't exist, especially when so many producers want our respect even as they commit some of the same offenses as their forebears.

MarkEdwards
06-25-2011, 04:50
So... have we decided that blenders can be pioneers? Or not? :cool:

Gillman
06-25-2011, 06:16
I would say so. Those who pioneered blended Scotch whisky created a world famous and lasting style of the spirit. Indeed they are responsible for putting scotch on the map outside Scotland. Some of the early names are Andrew Usher, John Walker, Peter Ballantine, Dewar, Teacher. One of the things behind the revival of the malts is that blends had declined in quality by the 1980's. And so an alternative arose, just as it did in North America when a reaction formed to the rule of American-style lager beer - itself quite different than it was 100 years ago. (Sam Adams Boston Lager is a typical 1800's lager, enuf said). But Scotch blends are still a major category worldwide and I would say too they have improved in the last 30 years.

Given the enduring popularity of Canadian whisky, it's fair to say its early inventors (Hiram Walker, Jos. Seagram, amongst others) were pioneers.

However, blending as practiced in North America, while it captured a large part of the whisky market, failed to make a mark at the highest level of quality. The blends here were never as good as the straights. They could have been, but weren't.


Gary

cigarnv
06-25-2011, 06:26
I would say so. Those who pioneered blended Scotch whisky created a world famous and lasting style of the spirit. Indeed they are responsible for putting scotch on the map outside Scotland. Some of the early names are Andrew Usher, John Walker, Teacher. One of the things behind the revival of the malts is that blends had declined in quality by the 1980's. And so an alternative arose, just as it did in North America when a reaction formed to the rule of light lager beer - itself quite different than it was 100 years ago. (Sam Adams Boston Lager is a typical 1800's lager, enuf said).

On the other hand, blending as practiced in North America, while it captured the market for a time due I believe to marketing, failed to make a mark at the level of high quality, or so I would argue. The blends here were never as good as the straights. They could have been, but weren't.

Gary

Gary, as usual great info... were the original Scotch blends something you would call high quality or were they something less when first coming on the scene?

Gillman
06-25-2011, 11:43
Reid, thanks, of course it is difficult to know at this remove. However, we do know that malt whiskies then were heavier than even in 1920 when George Saintsbury, in his Notes on a Cellar Book, noted the change. They originally were more sherried, more peated, more heavy with congeners. Therefore, the initial blends had to have more character than later. I've tasted a couple of blends from the 1930's and 40's - as late as that - which were superlative, heavy and smoky-brandy-like.

There is every reason to think, therefore, the first blends - which indeed first were vattings (all-malt), were much better than the norm, say, in 1980 at the eve of the malt whisky revival.

Gary

cowdery
06-25-2011, 12:55
As Gary says, the first Scottish blends were what we would call vattings, as they were mixtures of malt whiskey. No grain whiskey at that point. But the purpose of blending was to make whiskey more palatable to people who did not find it palatable and that led, probably inevitably, to the lighter blends that nearly-neutral grain whiskey made in Coffey stills made possible. Andrew Usher is usually credited as the first blender, both of the all-malt blends and the later, lighter blends.

He was certainly a pioneer.

smokinjoe
06-25-2011, 13:31
Just to clarify, I am not saying that the "act" of distilling is the most important part of the whiskey making process. Certainly, there are many parts of the process that must be melded together to make quality whiskey. From grain selection, mashing, distilling, aging, barrel selection, etc., etc., etc. What I'm saying is, that I believe those people who participate in all of these aspects get a lot more of my respect, than those who only participate at the end using distillate they did not make. If this is giving short shrift to blenders, then yes, I guess I am.

The industry of our hobby here, has some great names associated with it: Russell, Lee, Beam, Rutledge. They are the creators. They are the real deal. They make whiskey. Using what these men do as my model, I am entirely more apt to include the works of men such as McKenzie, Garrison, and Leopold, as recipients of my admiration, rather than those named Bush, Perkins, and Kulsveen. This doesn't mean I won't drink, and potentially enjoy what the latter names bottle, but it just ain't the same, to me.

ebo
06-25-2011, 14:24
Just to clarify, I am not saying that the "act" of distilling is the most important part of the whiskey making process. Certainly, there are many parts of the process that must be melded together to make quality whiskey. From grain selection, mashing, distilling, aging, barrel selection, etc., etc., etc. What I'm saying is, that I believe those people who participate in all of these aspects get a lot more of my respect, than those who only participate at the end using distillate they did not make. If this is giving short shrift to blenders, then yes, I guess I am.

The industry of our hobby here, has some great names associated with it: Russell, Lee, Beam, Rutledge. They are the creators. They are the real deal. They make whiskey. Using what these men do as my model, I am entirely more apt to include the works of men such as McKenzie, Garrison, and Leopold, as recipients of my admiration, rather than those named Bush, Perkins, and Kulsveen. This doesn't mean I won't drink, and potentially enjoy what the latter names bottle, but it just ain't the same, to me.
:toast:
.............

Gillman
06-25-2011, 19:50
Points taken Joe, I guess I just view it as different business models, factoring too that some bourbon and rye from traditional producers (not any of those you mentioned) just isn't that great IMO.

But I share the admiration for the makers, of course.

Gary

macdeffe
06-25-2011, 23:03
Most, if not all, innovation and pioneering in the scotch whisky industry comes from the maturation and blending part of the proces. As mentioned before, its often said that distilling is a craft while blending is an art

Can anyone tell me why this discussion is happening on a site like straightbourbon.com and not on a site mainly discussing single malt?, where I would reckon it never would happen. I find it peculiar as single malt fans normally are much more focused on the actual distilling process and exact origin of the product they are drinking than I see here

In this sense the bourbon industry has a lot of similarities to the scottish blend industry (and this is not meant negative by me, blends can be good). Jim Beam is from two distilleries randomly I guess, and quite a few brands have changed distillery of origin. A lot of brands from bourbon IB it is sometimes hard to find origin of.

All the pioneering these days comes from the blending/maturation side of the industry. In my opinion and its very solid.

For some reason a few people in this thread think it's a huge importance that the people doing this is actual employed by the company owning the distillery.

To me this is irrelevant.

They often are yes!. In single malt one of the first innovators with wood maturation were Glenmorangie. They started finishing whisky. To me this has been taken to extremes other companies, Arran, Bruichladdich/Murray McDavid/Edradour, not always for the best

Glenmorangie is still on the forefront of this kind of innovation with their new Ardbeg Alligator

As I mentonioned here http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13848&page=3

my favourite innovator right now is Amrut. One of the other great innovator here is Compass Box, as others have mentioned. I also like some of the things Duncan Taylor and Berry Bros has done blend wise

Duncan Taylor bottled Black Bull 30, a limited product of preblended whisky. It was bottled a few years ago, but you can say the innovation happened 30 years ago!

You can be a distiller, or distillery manager/operator without having a clue about whisky, I have seen this many times. You can't be a blender!

So of course people like Perkins are innovators and pioneers, it's exactly at this point of the process where innovation and pioneering happens these days

Steffen

PS The greatest change in a product at distilling level was Morrison Bowmore removing the FWP character of their whisky/whiskies, but somehow I reckon this will never been seen as being very innovative:slappin: , but I do think it was a very clever step :rolleyes:

cowdery
06-26-2011, 20:38
Steffen,

Perhaps you didn't read the whole thread, where I described some of the history of blended whiskey in America. That's the reason. Blending, especially as the Scots mean it, is just not part of the American tradition, which is why people who are steeped in the American tradition don't get it, just like you don't get us because you're (I assume) steeped in the scotch tradition.

craigthom
06-27-2011, 04:47
According to my guide at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre in Edinburgh blending is the magic behind Scotch Whisky. I'm pretty sure the attraction was sponsored by major blenders.

tmckenzie
06-28-2011, 03:41
If you ain't got a man that know how to make whiskey, then it does not know how much ability the blender has.

macdeffe
06-28-2011, 10:36
If you ain't got a man that know how to grow barley or corn, then it does not know how much ability the distiller has.

mrviognier
06-28-2011, 11:49
If you ain't got a man that know how to make whiskey, then it does not know how much ability the blender has.

True...but a talented blender can oft times utilize a lacking whiskey as a component in a final blend which is better than the parts.

cigarnv
06-28-2011, 13:11
True...but a talented blender can oft times utilize a lacking whiskey as a component in a final blend which is better than the parts.

Very true.......

smokinjoe
06-28-2011, 13:31
Yes, blending barrels together to reach the required flavor profile of the brand is something the distilleries, and their master distillers and tasting teams, do every single day. And have, for a hundred years.

Gillman
06-28-2011, 14:28
It's interesting to speculate: if column-distilled whisky had not been invented, and if the Scottish malts as known in the later 1800's: pungent, often peaty and congeneric, had remained unblended, would Scotch whisky have become the world-famous spirit it did?

A glimmer of what might have happened is the development of triple-distilled, non-peated malts as occurred in the south of Scotland (Lowland whisky, Glenkinchie is one of the few left). Possibly this might have become the world style in Scotch, just as Cognac became a famed drink but remained traditionally distilled; it is hard to say.

In the event, blended Scotch became the leading style of Scotch whisky: only recently have the malts properly been "re-positioned" by the industry and rightly so since they are the acme of the art, but that doesn't mean Scotch could have become what it did without rectification and blending.

But Tom is right of course too: without the whiskies to begin with, the blenders can't get going: in Scotland it's hand-in-glove though, and here too basically I think when you factor that most bourbon distillers make or distribute other spirits. And some of course make blended (American) whisky, of which 7 Crown is the leading example and very popular still.

Gary

macdeffe
06-28-2011, 15:11
A few points.

Of the 5 operating Lowland distilleries only one is triple distilled (Auchentoshanm, Glenkinchie is not).

If the scottish whiskies of the 1800's were as you say : pungent, often peaty and congeneric

I am pretty sure it's lack of maturation and cask management most of all thats the reason :-)

I mention two side as main innovation points, blending and cask managements. The focus in this thread is blending versus distilling, but I do believe that cask management is greater innovation point than blending. In my opinion very few products has arisen to great whiskies due to blending. Blending is usually a way to make whisky easy approachable and not a way to make great whiskies. But it do happen. And a lot of the good blending is not done in producing blends but in producing single malts. So blends aren't the prime examples of good blending but single malts is

But blends is often a way to make "bad" whisky drinkable, and to be honest, its not this kind of innovation we are looking for.

One of my favourite vatting is the Arran Peacock, it just doesnt get better than that really. The way the ex-bourbon and ex-sherry components working together and expressing themselves is pure pleasure. It's a vatting of 13 casks just, but you can still expereince the components in a very delightful way whisch is a reason I really like this


Often vattings of amny casks will grey out the single components to a degree beyond pleasure

Steffen

smokinjoe
06-28-2011, 15:30
Steffen, I'm not sure the "focus in this thread is blending versus distilling". The OP's original post asks about non-distilling blenders getting short shrift from some in the bourbon enthusiasts community, versus what those same people in this community think of bourbon distilleries who do the entire process. Quite different angle, I think.

Respectfully, the history of Scotch blending, though interesting, is irrelevant, here.

Maybe, that's where we all may be getting hung up.

Josh
06-28-2011, 15:31
But blends is often a way to make "bad" whisky drinkable, and to be honest, its not this kind of innovation we are looking for.

Except for almost all American blends, which tend to do the opposite. They make good whiskey bad.

cowdery
06-28-2011, 18:56
A blend like Johnnie Black is like a tour of Scotland. It would be very hard to make a whiskey taste like that, with all the elements of scotch whiskey in such perfect balance, any way other than through blending. It's about creating an enjoyable taste experience that would be impossible to duplicate with a single malt. It was originally about tempering malts that were too strongly flavored but that's not the case now. That's what blending is about and if micro-distillers want to take that on and develop that as a specialty, I think that's a fine idea. But it is not presently part of the American whiskey experience.

Gillman
06-28-2011, 19:52
To me it's all related (Scotch, etc.) but to get back to the narrow original question, I think, yes, many here probably do have a lesser regard for the NDPs but I do not, for all the reasons previously suggested. If malt scotch could not have become a world spirit on its own, which I think is likely, I think that argues for equal respect to be given the NDPs albeit their role here is lesser (in number, products on the market). The potential is there, as Chuck puts it. I would say though the tradition of American blended whiskey provides a basis, a platform.

Thanks for the correction viz. Glenkinchie, it is its lightness I really meant to highlight.

Gary

macdeffe
06-28-2011, 22:44
But to those who says that it was wrong to approve a blender and IB'er with innovation and pioneering awards this year, who should have had it instead ?

I don't see a lot of innovation going on in the distilling side of of the industry

I can think of Tobermory and Bowmore changing characters recently due to changes in the distilling (Bowmore: some claim its the mashing!) part of the proces, but thats from horrible whisky to "normal" or almost normal whisky!

When I say recently I would guess Bowmore's change is almost 20 years ago and Tobermory's migh be 10 years ago

Steffen

macdeffe
06-28-2011, 22:50
Steffen, I'm not sure the "focus in this thread is blending versus distilling". The OP's original post asks about non-distilling blenders getting short shrift from some in the bourbon enthusiasts community, versus what those same people in this community think of bourbon distilleries who do the entire process. Quite different angle, I think

OK, sorry for the misunderstanding

Personally I don't really care who bottles my whisky as long as its good

My personal experience is that IB'er does it better, and concerning their lesser availability of casks they do it a lot better. In Scotland. With bourbons I don't have any preferences

Steffen

Gillman
06-29-2011, 05:10
Josh made a good point but you can look at it different ways. The purpose of the straight whiskey in those blends, in the percentages currently used, is really to improve the white spirits, it's a flavoured vodka, a particular form of rectified form of alcohol (largely).

Also, at one time in the U.S., there were "luxury" blends which contained far more straight whiskey. And there were blends of straight whiskey.

There is ample basis therefore on which to build a blending revival. The idea of combining young straight whiskeys from craft distillers is another take on it. Blend 4 bourbons, say, 1-2 years old, add some older, more conventional bourbon, maybe some GNS for some versions.

Just contracting out production of straight bourbon to an established distiller, which is an old tradition in America, is kind of the same thing, in that the person behind it has chosen to or is not able to set up his own distillery.

Gary

smokinjoe
06-29-2011, 06:38
Aha! I'm starting to get it, now. So, these guys are really just glorified "rectifiers", like what were prevalent...back....in the pioneer days!

Gillman
06-29-2011, 11:13
But rectification is a broad concept, it takes in making flavorless spirit, somewhat flavored (in various ways), more highly flavored, and up to combinations of different straight whiskeys, or bourbons from different states. Bourbon itself as defined in the law can be a combination of different bourbons from one state. So one end of the spectrum shades into another...

Gary

cowdery
06-29-2011, 12:25
Here's another way to look at it.

Most of the blending done in the production of American whiskey is done by distillers.

Every bourbon or rye except a single barrel is blended, in that barrels are selected and dumped so as to match an established flavor profile for the brand and expression. Setting aside the legal definition, that's blending, but it's done by distillers and their tasting panels.

This also demonstrates that there isn't a clear line between the two skill sets, which is why I think arguing about which is more important is pointless.

It's really quality control. If you're tasting and evaluating the grain, the mash, the beer, the white dog, and the aging spirit, you're a distiller. If you're only tasting and evaluating aging spirit, you're a blender. But even those distinctions can get blurred.

In any enterprise, there has to be accountability. The person who is most responsible for the product in the bottle is most important, regardless of title.

sailor22
06-29-2011, 16:15
Here's another way to look at it.

Most of the blending done in the production of American whiskey is done by distillers.

Every bourbon or rye except a single barrel is blended, in that barrels are selected and dumped so as to match an established flavor profile for the brand and expression. Setting aside the legal definition, that's blending, but it's done by distillers and their tasting panels.

This also demonstrates that there isn't a clear line between the two skill sets, which is why I think arguing about which is more important is pointless.

It's really quality control. If you're tasting and evaluating the grain, the mash, the beer, the white dog, and the aging spirit, you're a distiller. If you're only tasting and evaluating aging spirit, you're a blender. But even those distinctions can get blurred.


Well said. That is the point I was trying to make.