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.