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cowdery
09-17-2007, 20:57
Among we fans of American whiskey, "blend" is a bad word, connoting both the "imitation" whiskeys of the past and the unedifying American Blended Whiskeys of the present day.

Even in Scotland, where the art of whiskey blending began, today it gets no respect. Real whiskey enthusiasts don't care about Johnnie Walker, regardless of label color. It's all about single malts.

But as Gary Gillman often reminds us, blending gives us an unlimited variety of flavors, some of which are wonderful and can be achieved no other way. As his fellow Canadian Sam Bronfman once said, "distilling is a science, blending is an art."

What I have realized just recently is how influential Scottish blending techniques have been, especially in some unexpected places, especially the practice of combining very flavorful pot-distilled spirit with more neutral column-distilled spirit. This is, of course, the way Scottish, Canadian and Japanese blends are made, but as I recently learned it also is the way fine rums are blended in the former British colony of Jamaica. Different varieties of sugar cane are processed, their molasses separated from their pure sugar content, then the molasses is fermented, distilled in either a pot or column still, and aged in used Jack Daniel's barrels. These different, aged rums are then blended to a desired taste profile, exactly the way Scottish whiskey blends are made, except with rum.

In the United States, where we value straight whiskey above all else, and where pot stills are usually used only for secondary distillation, there are still some parallels. Four Roses makes ten different bourbon formulas by combining five different yeasts with two different mash bills. Everything is aged in new, charred barrels. Still, that gives them ten different taste profiles, more if you factor in different ages, which they blend into an ideal final product.

Even closer to the Scottish model is Woodford Reserve, which combines pot-distilled straight bourbon with column-distilled straight bourbon and blends them in much the same way as Appleton blends rum. It's no accident that Brown-Forman, whose controlling Brown family is proud of its Scottish ancestry, makes both Woodford Reserve Bourbon and Appleton Rum.

Finally, I learned last week that Brown-Forman founder George Garvin Brown, creator of Old Forester, which was originally a blend of straight bourbons, opposed the part of the Bottled-in-Bond act that required bonded whiskey to be from one distillery during a single season. He valued the ability to mix whiskey of different ages and from several distilleries together to achieve the best possible flavor.

TNbourbon
09-17-2007, 21:06
Chuck, several of us, a couple of years ago, wound up buying single-barrel bottles from FOUR different Stitzel-Weller barrels distilled during its final distilling season in Spring 1992. Each is a fine drink, but I've found that vatted (blended), they strongly resemble Old Rip Van Winkle 15/107 (the barrels were 13-1/2 years old when bottled). Who doesn't claim ORVW 15/107 as a favorite pour?
So, in the hands of a practiced/professional blender, should we expect a premium product? Sure. I'm sold.

doubleblank
09-17-2007, 21:12
I agree with both and with Tim's example being a case in point. Each individual bottling is very nice....but I keep a bottle for vatting the remains of each SB......and it's my favorite Weller 12yo.

Randy

barturtle
09-17-2007, 21:41
It is true that blend is a bad word, mostly due to the fact that most blends are not blends of straights. I have no issue with blends as long as the rectifiers are willing to own up to the fact that they are blends. The blenders art is a noble one and has created some damn fine drams.

One issue is that (to the best of my knowledge) American blends don't require an aged Grain component as do Scotch...this may be my biggest problem with traditional GNS based blends. Fixing this as well as issuing more blends of straights(and labeling them as such) could help to remove some of the stigma, at least to the blended scotch levels.

I know and understand that FR Yellow label is a blend of straights and it's a fine pour. If an independent bottler does a blend of straights and is honest about that fact and has a consistent and good product I see no reason to think any less of that product. Yes it will take a bit of a mental adjustment to justify the dollar amounts that the upscale Chivas and Johnny Walkers demand, but if adjusted for the market (bourbon is much cheaper than Scotch) I don't see it as a huge issue, personally.

Of course having said that, I would still like to be able to know at least what the major component of the blend is (as we know what the major of JW and Chivas are and can buy and try them as Singles)...this is all part of the fun of whisk(e)y exploration.

It is a complicated subject, filled with a lot of stereotyping and predjudice, but with the right marketing and consumer education it should be a solvable problem.

cowdery
09-17-2007, 22:19
An elaborated version of my post above is here (http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2007/09/blending-scottish-influence.html). It explains that the typical American blend (e.g., Seagram's Seven Crown) is 40 percent straight whiskey and 60 percent grain spirits. The percentage of grain spirits must be shown somewhere on the label (but you usually have to hunt for it).

jeff
09-18-2007, 05:58
Remember too that most of the world's finest wines are blends of individual grape varietals. The great wines of Bordeaux are the most obvious examples (Cabernet Savignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot can all be used.) There are few "single barrel" wines available and when I've had them, I generally find them uninspiring.

Gillman
09-18-2007, 06:35
Well put by all. It is a question of balance: with too few components, the taste (sometimes) is monochrome; with too many or not skilfully blended, the taste is bad or muddied.

Technically, Four Roses Straight Bourbon is not a blend of straights because Four Roses is blending all-bourbons, but I take the point made.

Aging the GNS part (as in Canada and Scotland) does improve the final flavour but only to a degree, it can't impart genuine whisky qualities (as I conceive whisky) to the blend.

Interesting what Randy said too, probably any mingling of those barrels would tend to produce something that resembles ORVW 15, or Pappy 15 (at least when all-S-W), and the reason simply is added complexity.

But I agree with Chuck too on the fundamental idea that blends (i.e., excluding minglings and blends of straight whiskeys) were and are regarded with suspicion in connoisseur/insider/informed circles. And this is simply because a blend fools with or traduces the taste of real whiskey. And I can't gainsay that.

craigthom
09-18-2007, 13:41
Remember too that most of the world's finest wines are blends of individual grape varietals. The great wines of Bordeaux are the most obvious examples (Cabernet Savignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot can all be used.) There are few "single barrel" wines available and when I've had them, I generally find them uninspiring.

That's been a problem for California wines, where the common use of varietal names made it tough to market blends without the 85% of one grape (or whatever it is). Opus One overcame that with brute marketing strength, and some vintners have created the "meritage" designation, but that's limited, too. It's tough to market an American Bordeaux-style blend.

cowdery
09-18-2007, 13:48
That's been a problem for California wines, where the common use of varietal names made it tough to market blends without the 85% of one grape (or whatever it is). Opus One overcame that with brute marketing strength, and some vintners have created the "meritage" designation, but that's limited, too. It's tough to market an American Bordeaux-style blend.

That's an interesting parallel too. Americans get themselves locked into some rigid definitional scheme in the name of authenticity and it prevents us from chasing the real goal, which is great taste.

mgilbertva
09-18-2007, 19:28
For what it's worth, in order to be given a varietal designation (e.g., to be labeled a Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon) the bottle must contain only 75% of the named grape according to American law. Personally, I find that misleading, but there it is.


...Americans get themselves locked into some rigid definitional scheme in the name of authenticity and it prevents us from chasing the real goal, which is great taste.

Chuck, I assume you're referring to California producers of Meritage wines trying to imitate Bourdeaux blends.

I'm sure you know all the following, but just in case some don't know the routine, by treaty U.S. producers are not allowed to use French appellations (geographic names) like Bourdeaux, Cognac, Champagne, etc. (I guess Chablis and Burgundy got grandfathered in so you still see those names used). In turn, distillers in the EU are not allowed to use the name Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey. So, Meritage was the marketing scheme developed to produce Bourdeaux-style wines without infringing on French naming rights.

Why should we try to imitate French wines? Well, because these blends have been perfected over the centuries - they're hard if not impossible to beat. Just like tomato, garlic, basic and olive oil is peerless, and corn, rye, barley malt, water and yeast amazing, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, with a dash of Petit Verdot and Malbec is unsurpassed. So, in fact, this combination is the goal, i.e., great taste.

barturtle
09-18-2007, 21:12
Technically, Four Roses Straight Bourbon is not a blend of straights because Four Roses is blending all-bourbons, but I take the point made.



You got me there. And it's a good point too. Woodford doesn't need to mark that theirs is a blend of multiple distilleries, nor does Van Winkle or KBD or anybody else who might add in stock to fill out a brand.

I must remember that just because it says bourbon (or even single barrel) doesn't mean it's all from the place that bottled it. A distinction that is the equal of single malt just doesn't exist in American whiskey.

The closest we have is bottled in bond, but that limits the distiller to one season/one year. There is no guarantee that anything not marked BIB isn't coming from more than one or all of the distillers and just being dumped into the bottle.

The fact that bonds are going away is disheartening, but without an equivalent to single malt and with there being a shortage of aged stock to maintain BIB labels there will be no way to know what's in the bottle.

Now, if I haven't managed to say anything in the past that will piss off every distiller and bottler, I have now. None of them will go for this, they don't want to say when they have to use other stock to fill out an order.

I'm still going to be one of the first to admit that blending does have it's place in American whiskey, even in the upper echelons of the species, but I just wanna know what's in the bottle and a a simple "Bourbon" isn't enough-not in the better brands anyway.

cowdery
09-18-2007, 23:09
Actually, I wasn't talking about wine at all except as it seemingly parallels what happens with whiskey terminology, but that's all good stuff.

Yes, BIB is going away, but instead we have single barrel, which by definition is from one season (one day, in fact), one distillery and one distiller, and is not mixed with any other whiskey from that or any other distillery.

barturtle
09-18-2007, 23:28
Actually, I wasn't talking about wine at all except as it seemingly parallels what happens with whiskey terminology, but that's all good stuff.

Yes, BIB is going away, but instead we have single barrel, which by definition is from one season (one day, in fact), one distillery and one distiller, and is not mixed with any other whiskey from that or any other distillery.

Yes we have single barrel, but whose whiskey is in that barrel? They don't have to say.

I would like to have a single distillery designation or distilled at/bottled at category.

mier
09-19-2007, 07:19
I do only partly agree with you Cowdery,the most drinked whisky today in Scotland is the Famous Grouse as you know a good blend,the most common single malt is Glenmorangie.A blend can capture a lot of tasty layers in a drink when it is done by blenders that are looking for consistancy and quality.But due to the demand of single malts it`s getting more difficult to create that consistancy,no stock of a certain brand cos bottlers keeping the stuff to sell it as a single malt of 50yo or the simple fact that a distillery ceased to excist and they`ve run out of it.The Ballantines of the 70s taste a lot diffrent of that from present days and besides changing the way of heating the still it has to do with the availability of whiskies to blend with as well.Only 6% of all scottish whisky is ending up as a single malt(was 3%),the rest is for blends which i won`t say no to if offered to me,you have some juwels under them.Altough the French have some good wines thanks to legislation it is that same legislation that forbids them to be creative and innovative and you have in Europe Germany,Austria and Italy to take over while the new worldwinecountries as Chile,South-Africa and Australia and New Zealand are waiting for a breaktrough with their innovative wines.We should all guard that legislation doesn`t do the same with our whisk(e)ys.It would be a shame having good drinks spoiled by some stupid civilworkers misusing rules.
Eric.

cowdery
09-19-2007, 12:07
I would like to have a single distillery designation or distilled at/bottled at category.

Agreed. That's why we should continue to express our enthusiasm for the Bottled-in-Bond designation, which is exactly what you describe.

mgilbertva
09-20-2007, 22:09
While I too would like to see BIBs remain a force in the bourbon market, I would be happy if they would just be more accurate and thorough in labeling. The information we get with BIBs is a good start, but it looks things are moving in the opposite direction, except for the very high end specialty bottlings.